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  • Zach Johnson at the Sea Island Golf Learning Center

Nuts for Pistachios

In Addition to serving as a nutritious snack, these flavorful nuts add color and texture to a wide range of dishes.

By: Sarah Gleim

Pistachios can be prepared and enjoyed in a wide variety of ways— from eaten as savory snacks to served in decadent desserts, pistachios have become ubiquitous in the American diet. In fact, the U.S. is one of the largest producers of the nuts and sales have skyrocketed in the past few years, both domestically and internationally.

“People are expanding what they want to include in their diet, and nuts in general, including pistachios, are heart healthy and have good fat,” says Robert Reynaud, chef de cuisine at Tavola in The Cloister. “I like pistachios because they’re tasty, but also because of their nutritional value.”

That heart-healthy reputation has boosted pistachios into becoming a guilt-free snack. A 2-ounce serving, for instance, has 12 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

Yet pistachios aren’t just for snacking; chefs love them for the flavor and texture they impart to both sweet and savory meals— think pistachio-flavored gelato, or less conventional applications like grated pistachios on fresh fish crudo. At Tavola, Reynaud uses them in some of the restaurant’s pesto sauces. “The nut has a high fat content so it adds creaminess and texture to pestos,” he says. “I especially like making a mint-andpistachio pesto and serving it with a roasted quail or other game.”

He also says the opportunities for using the nut in desserts is unending, particularly for an Italian restaurant, as the world’s best pistachios are said to come from Sicily. Ashley Nichols, pastry chef de partie at the Sea Island Bake Shop, agrees. “I think they have a great flavor and are so versatile,” she says. “You can add them into cakes, cookies and gelatos, and they pair well with cherries, chocolate, raspberries and even apples.”

Another of Nichols’ favorite things about pistachios is the unique hue they add to her desserts. “When they’re toasted, they add texture and crunch, but they also give that bright, brilliant green color,” she explains. “As a pastry chef, you’re always looking to
add color to your plate, and they do.”

One of those brilliant green desserts is her pistachio cake, which substitutes traditional cake flour in favor of pistachio flour. “Pistachio flour is great because it has a high fat content, so it acts as binding in the cake,” she says. “And it even allows us to create gluten-free dessert options.”

The versatility of pistachios appeals to many chefs, including Brent Banda, executive chef at Ecco in Atlanta, who says he can use the nuts in sweet or savory dishes, paired with citrus and herbs, and game or fowl. “They also work well with French, Italian and Mediterranean foods,” he says. “At Ecco, we have a seasonal menu that changes frequently, and I’ve always had a lot of inspiration cooking European foods, and pistachioswork well with most of those.”

Banda, like Reynaud, uses pistachios in pestos and also pairs them with heavy meats. One of his favorite dishes this fall is a braised lamb shank with a pistachio salsa verde. “We make the salsa verde using fresh herbs from our rooftop garden, arugula, citrus and toasted pistachios all pulsed together,” he says. “It’s a light, bright sauce that can stand up to the heavy lamb shank.”

With such a wide range of creative applications in the culinary world, the question isn’t how to incorporate pistachios, but which method—or nut-filled dish—will end up your personal favorite.