Grown in the rich volcanic soils surrounding Mount Etna, Sicilian pistachios are highly prized for their verdant green color and pronounced flavor, and every pasticceria on the rugged island offers a proliferation of pistachio-studded sweets. You’ll find pistachio nougats, pistachio candies and cookies and cakes. Around the corner, pistachio gelato. Oh, gelato.
I’d been looking high and low for a solid baking recipe that paired lemon with pistachio, and these rustic biscotti al pistacchio won the prize. No matter their country of origin, cookies are as much about texture as anything else, and these have it in spades: tender and coarse-grained, with warm, layered flavor, a bright note from lemon zest and a satisfying chew. The cookies are a sweet punctuation to the end of a meal, just the right size to snuggle up next to an espresso or glass of vin santo. And with other little bites they’re a pretty addition to a cookie plate, preferably one that showcases the crispy-sandy-chewy-crunchy-cakey pantheon of cookies so you can have one of each.
Also, it occurred to me as I was preparing the dough that with no leaveners or butter, these cookies should be a-ok for Passover; omit the vanilla (alcohol base) and powdered sugar (cornstarch) or substitute kosher-for-Passover powdered sugar that’s blended with potato starch. And if you have gluten-free friends coming to your Seder, they’re in luck, too: no wheat in these baked treats. If you have a lot of gluten-free friends coming over, the recipe doubles or triples easily.
Sicilian Pistachio Cookies
adapted from Biscotti by Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti, 2011; makes about 2 dozen small cookies
- 1 1/2 C raw pistachios (shelled and unsalted), plus extra for garnish
- 1/2 C almond meal
- 1/2 C granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp honey
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 tsp lemon zest
- 1 large egg white
- 1 1/2 tsp honey
- scant 1/2 C powdered sugar
Preheat to oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the almond meal, pistachios and half of the sugar measure until finely chopped (but not fully ground). Transfer to a large bowl and combine with the vanilla, lemon zest and honey. Add the whites and mix. Add the sugar and gently combine. (You might find it easier to use your hands.) Form into tablespoon-sized balls and roll in the powdered sugar to coat. Transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment, leaving about an 1 1/4″ distance between each cookie. Press a pistachio into each cookie for garnish.
Bake 15-18 minutes until fragrant, crackled and golden brown. When cooled, transfer to an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.
Note: If you don’t already have almond meal in your pantry, don’t buy it but substitute an extra 3/4 C + 2 Tbsp pistachios. (I didn’t have enough pistachios and subbed in almond meal.) I sought out a natural-foods store with a sizable bulk section for the shelled pistachios, which can be expensive at some markets.