Nutty for pistachios

November 12, 2008|By Gwen Schoen | Gwen Schoen,McClatchy-Tribune

Some people take pistachios for granted. We love them sprinkled liberally over ice cream. Shaved over salads. Toasted and chopped for a halibut crust. Packed for some crunch punch in cookies. Sunken like treasure in soups. Dusted with tangy spice rubs.

Even straight-up with a drink at the game - they can give peanuts an inferiority complex.

Pistachios are native to the Middle East and are likely the oldest cultivated nut tree in history. Archaeological evidence shows traces of pistachios as far back as 7000 B.C.

The first commercial pistachio crop was grown in California in 1976 and it produced 1.5 million pounds of nuts. Last year, the California crop produced 400 million pounds.

When you select pistachios, the shells should be split. That indicates the nut inside is mature and full of flavor. Once the shell has been removed, the nut inside is covered by a thin skin. The skin is edible, but when you use pistachios in recipes, often the skin is removed just for appearances.

To remove pistachio skins, first remove the nuts from the shells. Cover the nuts with boiling water and let them stand for two minutes. Drain the water and place the nuts in a dish towel. Rub them vigorously - the skins will slip right off.

Toasting brings out the sweet flavors of pistachios and turns them crispy. To toast the nuts, spread them out on an ungreased baking pan and bake them for about 15 minutes at 200 degrees. When they are lightly browned, they are perfect. If you are just going to eat them, you can drizzle them with a tiny bit of melted butter and sprinkle them with spices.

savory pistachio meatball appetizers

(makes 3 dozen)

1 pound ground pork or mild pork sausage

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped green onion

1/3 cup natural California pistachios, chopped

1 tablespoon sherry

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup soft bread crumbs

1 cup apricot-pineapple preserves

1/3 cup regular barbecue sauce

Combine pork, green onion, pistachios, sherry, egg and crumbs; blend well. Lightly shape into balls 1 inch in diameter.

Place in 15-by-10-inch baking pan with sides. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. Drain excess fat and transfer meatballs to a serving dish or chafing dish. Combine apricot-pineapple preserves and barbecue sauce; heat to boiling. Pour over meatballs. Serve with toothpicks.

This recipe can be made as an appetizer or a main dish. For a main dish, serve the meatballs over steamed rice.

Per meatball: 76 calories, 4 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 18 milligrams cholesterol, 46 milligrams sodium, 0 grams fiber

Recipe courtesy of the Western Pistachio Association. Analysis provided by the Sacramento Bee.

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