When it comes to pistachios I refuse to take shortcuts. I will happily sit at the kitchen table and shell pounds and pounds of pistachios by hand. I’ll shell so many nuts that by the end my thumbs are stinging because the salt has made its way into the slits on my fingertips inflicted by the sharp edges of the shells. Hell, I’d sit there in the dark to heighten the sense of martyrdom if I could get away with it. But I never begrudge the work or the mighty pistachio itself. Some activities are meant to be done slowly and with great suffering. They’re good for the soul–and they also hefty deposits in the relationship bank account so that I can guilt The One into doing my bidding simply by giving him two very sore thumbs up.
That’s how it is with this gelato. I know I can buy shelled pistachios. I know I can refinance our apartment to buy Sicilian pistachio paste. I know I can hire neighborhood children and scream at them to go faster as they huddle together crying, pinging those lovely green nuts into a communal bowl. It’s just that I get an enormous sense of satisfaction from doing it myself. If I could grow the damn things, I would.
The payoff of all this drama queen–worthy sturm und drang is supremely creamy, abundantly studded sin in a spoon. And accept no less than khaki-colored gelato. Yes, khaki-colored. Those tubs of nuclear-green mounds whispering your name each summer are imposters. They’re artificially colored and too often laced with almond extract, kind of like inexpensive performance-enhancing drugs for the dairy set. (The One and I were in Aix-en-Provence recently, and I was floored to find my pistachio gelato contained nary an eponymous nut; it was meagerly flecked with—are you ready?—crushed peanuts.) People will go to great lengths to not spend the time or money to make a memorable gelato.
Speaking of money, many an excellent commercial gelato maker will use those outrageously expensive pistachio pastes ($320 for a 4.6-pound can) to achieve a pistachio flavor so intense you positively vibrate while lapping it up. But where’s the pain in that, I ask you? My signoras would never approve. –David Leite
LC Peeling Pesky Pistachios Note: Uh, it’s not just the shelling of the pistachios that could lead one to martyrdom. Ideally they’d also be peeled–that is, you’d also remove that bitter tasting, papery little husk that clings rather peskily to the pistachio nut. And the easiest way to make this happen is to blanch the shelled pistachios in boiling water, then drain them and toss them in a large kitchen towel and rub, rub, rub until your arms can rub no more. Then dump the pistachios in a bowl and pore over them and strip off any little specs of violet or brown parchment-like peel that insist on clinging to the nut. Then give your floor a good sweep, as it’ll need it. And yes, the resulting gelato, with its robust pistachio taste and ethereal creaminess, is worth every second of this.
Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 30 minutes, not including chilling
Makes about 1 quart
2 1/2 c shelled unsalted pistachios, plus at least another cup for snacking
2 1/2 c whole milk
1 c heavy cream
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/2 to 2/3 c sugar
- Coarsely grind the 2 1/2 cups of pistachios in a food processor. Remove and reserve 3/4 cup. Finely grind the remaining pistachios and set them aside, too. Whatever you do, keep your hands out of these–they’re precisely measured. That’s why I suggested the extra cup for snitching.
- Bring the milk, cream, and the finely ground nuts almost but not quite to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Watch this closely, as it can foam up– and over–the pot in the time it takes you to grab a potholder. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Pour the pistachio milk mixture into a bowl and place this bowl in another larger bowl filled halfway with ice and water. Stir the pistachio milk mixture until cool. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (The lackadaisical among us can simply slide the pan off the heat and let it cool. Then cover the pan with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge.)
- The next day, strain the pistachio milk mixture into another saucepan, pressing hard on the ground nuts with the back of a spoon. Discard the soggy nuts. You’ll have about 2 cups of wickedly pistachio-flavored creamy milk. Resist the urge to sip it. Heat the milk over low heat until very warm. Again, don’t let it boil.
- Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a bowl and one of those handy dandy hand mixers like my godmother used to use), beat the egg yolks and sugar with the whisk attachment until thick and pale, 3 or 4 minutes.
- Carry the bowl over to the stove and pour just a little of the warm pistachio milk mixture into the whipped egg yolk mixture and stir to combine. Slowly, slowly add the rest of the whipped egg yolk mixture to the pan, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture registers 175° to 180°F (80° to 82°C) on an instant-read thermometer or until the custard that forms thickly coats the back of your spoon and doesn’t drip when you swipe your finger across it.
- Pour the custard into a bowl and place this bowl in another large bowl filled halfway with ice and water. Lazily stir until the mixture cools. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, gently pressing the plastic directly against the surface of the custard, and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 2 hours. (I know you’re asking, “What the hell, David? Why all this chilling in a bowl with ice?” Good question, astute reader. If you put the hot custard in the fridge immediately, you’ll drop the inside temperature of your refrigerator and you could very well spoil your dinner. Also, by making sure the custard is chilled through and through, you’ll take some strain off of your ice cream maker–especially those of you whose ice cream makers have the inserts you have to freeze. It takes way longer to churn ice cream if the base is warm–and the results are never as spectacular as they ought to have been. Trust me–that’s all I’m going to say.)
- Churn the gelato according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Sprinkle the reserved coarsely ground pistachios during the last few minutes of processing, when the gelato starts making those mesmerizing waves as it goes round and round and round. (Those waves are how I know that the gelato ready.) Scoop the gelato into a plastic container, cover, and freeze until solid. I bought these cool pint-size ice cream containers, just like the ones they use in ice cream parlors. I like to personalize them with my guests names and carry them aloft on a tray to the table. They get a kick out of it–and, to be honest, I do, too.
Pistachio Gelato Recipe © 2003 David Leite. Photo © 2003 William Addison. All rights reserved.