FOOD: Shell Shocked

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

First thought when you see a pistachio: too much work. We get it, but with these flavor-packed recipes, shelling those pistachios is worth the effort. —INGRAIN, Spring 2019

Pistachios and a Goose Island Craft Beer

STORY / Jenn Garbee

Who needs spring greens when you have pistachios?

There’s almost nothing more tactually satisfying (the exception being the snap of a sheet of bubble wrap) than cracking the ivory-colored shell off of a beautiful green pistachio nut. Almost nothing. The rich, earthy, nutty flavors make all the work worth it.

Pistachios, people! What happened to the pistachios?

They’re not just for snacking, as we imagine a cheery commercial jingle might remind us over and over again. You might start with a cocktail, like the pistachio orgeat-matcha version that was an instant hit in our offices, then turn out an impossibly green homemade pasta dough, the base for a lasagna loaded with pistachio pesto and homemade ricotta (all easier to make than it sounds).

And how about a killer pistachio cake laced with honey that serves as both dessert—maybe a glass of that orgeat to finish off the night?—and breakfast the next day. With that, you have the makings of a truly green day, no power smoothies in sight.


The pistachio “nut” (it’s actually a seed) is high in fat—the good, flavorful kind. All of that fat means the seed’s bright flavor, creamy interior, and avocado-like complexion can take a nosedive quickly. Be wary of pistachios lurking in dark corners of the mini mart or those with “sell by” dates longer than one year. You can’t go wrong with buying pistachio products straight from a farm.

Crane your neck far enough west, and you’ll find the Zannon family, the folks behind the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company. For more than twenty-five years, they’ve been growing organic pistachios in Santa Barbara County, where long days of sunshine, combined with the cool, breezy Central Coast night air, creates the perfect sleep-wake cycle for the trees. (Iran, Turkey, and Australia are other modern havens for the finicky trees, which are native to Central Asia.)

Yes, you’re going to pay a few dollars more when you buy farm-fresh pistachios, but even bulk, second-rate pistachios are pricier than the average baseball stadium snack nut. Production yields are part of the reason: The trees are biennial bearing, meaning a high yield is followed by a low yield the next year, and after harvest, the nuts must be sorted by hand.

The farm’s plain salted nuts are hard to beat (get two or three bags; the shells hardly slow down our snacking speed), and Santa Barbara Pistachio Co.’s nut flour (finely ground pistachios) is an all-time-favorite ingredient find. The Pistachio Honey Cake recipe was the result of an impulse farmers’ market purchase some years back and a mad dash to come up with something to do with the flour. The years when there aren’t enough surplus nuts for the farm to grind into flour are sad, very sad. Act like a squirrel and buy enough to freeze for future baking days.


Matcha Crème d'Orgeat

Pistachio Orgeat

Pistachio Honey Cake

Pistachio Lasagna

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