Pistachios, Citron…and Chocolate

Recently I’ve been thinking a bit about pistachios for a couple of reasons.
Pistachios are wonderful and tasty nuts that not so long ago were considered unusual and exotic. Now they’ve become rather common and are easily available. When I was a little boy, my Syrian grandfather used to always have on hand big 5-poundsacks of pistachio nuts, sometimes vividly-colored red (am I the only one who remembers those?) They were the best and I ate so many I’m surprised that my fingers aren’t permanently stained.

Then during the 1980’s, products from Iran were banned from being exported into the US for political reasons and my beloved pistachios disappeared. Eventually some crafty Californians came along (like the ones who decided that kiwis were going to be the Next Big Thing and planted rows and rows of them) and American-grown pistachios are the result; now pistachios are relatively cheap and plentiful. But here in Paris, I prowl the Arabic markets in neighborhoods off-the-beaten-path, and often come across Iranian pistachios which are delicious; the split shells easily snap off, and I pop the plump, lightly-salted nut kernels into my mouth. Before I know it, I’ve consumed a good half a kilo and want more.


I was lucky to get a wonderful gift from my friend Anne of some chocolate treats from a recent trip to Caffé dell’ Arte in Sicily. If you didn’t know it, Sicily is famous, mostly amongst pastry chefs who seek these pistachios which are brilliant green and sans the grey, papery and unattractive husk that covers the nut. Sicilian pistachios are wonderful for decorating since the color is indeed magnificent. (In spite of what recipes tell you, I don’t advise toasting normal pistachio nuts since they tend to lose any of their green hue, and they’ve likely been roasted before packaging.)


Anne advised that the aroma of pistachios was the first thing she noticed when she opened her bar, and sure enough, when I slipped mine out of the wrapper, the delicious nutty scent of fresh nuts filled the air, along with the aroma of deep, dark chocolate.
And the taste…Wow!

This was one of the best bars of chocolate I’ve ever had.
The chocolate was smooth and dark, rich and roasted like a sweet Italian espresso, with a lingering bitterness tempered with a perfectly balanced amount of sugar. Just enough to take the edge off, but not enough to be sweet: truly a fine balance of flavors. And the crispy, Sicilian pistachio nuts were whole, brilliant-green, and full of the flavor, reminiscent of a sunny and earthy Mediterranean climate.


Another treat were these thick slices of candied citron dipped in pure dark chocolate. Hardly anyone knows what citrons are anymore and they’re rarely found (the ones below that I saw in Italy at a villa and the owners insisted that they were “strange lemons, but with no pulp!”…)

Unusually-Shaped Buddha’s-Hand Citrons in Tuscany

Unless you’re lucky enough to know someone with a tree, citrons are a rarity in produce markets. They’re notable for their musky, aromatic smell and barely any pulp. But the beauty of a citron is in the noble, aromatic peel and rind, which is candied in halves or big slices, then chopped into Italian fruitcakes like pan forte or pan pepato, its spicier cousin. Of course, many American use them when baking their holiday fruitcakes as well, commonly referred to as “those icky green things”, an unfortunate designation, since as you can see, they’re lovely and delicious, especially coated with Sicilian chocolate!


  • Nicole
    November 25, 2005 8:27pm

    My mother is Greek and when our relatives would come to visit us in the States they always brought us bags of those red pistachios. There’s nothing like them and they’re sooo addicting! When my brother and I were little it was the only thing we really wanted our parents to bring us back from their travels. No matter how late it was we couldn’t wait to open their suitcases and look for them. I hadn’t realized until your post how much I miss them!

  • November 25, 2005 11:35pm

    Wow, those chocolate-covered citrons look amazing! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actual citron in real life, sadly.

  • November 26, 2005 1:10am

    Growing up in CA, I always had pistachios around. I loved snacking on them, even though I hated all other nuts at the time. Since I’m used to eating them plain, they’re one of the few nuts that I don’t like in desserts. No pistachio cake, ice cream or chocolate for me. I love the pistachio flavor by itself.

  • faustianbargain
    November 26, 2005 7:29am

    i love pistachios and i dont buy them in their shells anymore. unfortunately, they are rather expensive. i buy them by the kilo and one kilo usually lasts me a month.instead of handing candy to kids, i just pass them a handful of pistachios. nobody died from eating too many nuts, yea? they are particularly pretty studded in nougatine too. altho’ there is this fake dyed pistachios that some restaurants buy for the vibrant green colour. not my favourite. another blogger(www.101cookbooks.com) too mentioned pistachio recently..pistachio butter. i am now in a mood for a thick mug of hot pistachio/saffron milk. thanks for the post!!

  • November 26, 2005 9:37am

    Holy cow, that chocolate looks good! And you’ve just solved one of life’s greatest mysteries for me – I picked up a packet of candied citron a few weeks ago and have been staring at it in awe wondering where on earth they found a lemon with such thick skin, and why they insisted on calling it by the French name. Doh!

  • Lisa
    November 26, 2005 12:24pm

    Is this particular bar considered a version of cioccolata modicana? I am now regretting I did not visit this place when I was in Modica although I was lucky enough to visit Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, which I love.

  • November 27, 2005 4:13am

    Lisa: I don’t know if it’s considered cioccolata modicana. You can visit their web site, which I’ve linked, and report back to us!

    Melissas 1 & 2: In French, a lemon is called ‘citron’ and a citron is called a ‘cedrat’. In Italian, they’re called ‘cedro’.

    I recently saw an Italian spread made from nice, green pistachio paste, like a nut butter, that was a lovely porcelein green shade. Maybe next time I shop there (Sur La Quai), I’ll pick up a jar!

  • b
    November 27, 2005 9:18am

    Hi David,

    Where is Sur le Quai? In Paris? I’d love to get some pistachio butter too!


  • November 29, 2005 9:39am

    I remember the red pistachios! I LOVED them. I still see them sometimes and get nostaligic…

    As for citron, you can always find it in well stocked Israeli markets in LA in the springtime.

  • Norman Hanson
    November 29, 2005 2:09pm

    Hey David. If anyone wants to try to candy citron at home themselves, the recipe for candied grapefruit peel in the Chez Panisse fruit book works beautifully, as it is. I AM fortunate enough to be good friends with farmers who grow citron sustainably, and they always send me more than a few (they grow bergamots too). And I always candy a whole bunch of them for putting into my Christmas cookie tins. NO ONE can ever figure out what the stuff is. (I candy the bergamot too, and do a chocolate dip. That’s a harder one to get people to try).

  • November 30, 2005 10:19am

    You’ll find an excellent recipe for candying citrons in my first book, Room For Dessert. It works great and I make them every chance I get when I find fresh citrons!

  • Norman Hanson
    November 30, 2005 12:45pm

    David, if you want a supply of them whenever you want, just get in touch with Kim Christensen (kim@ripetoyou.com). I told her you may be contacting her, not knowing at the time you were, in fact, coming back to the US. She promised me that if she’s got them, you’ve got them. She and her husband Eric have the Buddha’s hand, and the regular variety, and you name the citrus, they grow it. Their website is http://www.ripeotyou.com. It’s all sustainable, non sprayed fruit. She promised me blood oranges in two weeks

  • November 30, 2005 11:49pm

    That Buddha’s Hand citron is amazing. I never saw one until this month, when I found one in a local grocery store and then this one on your website. Harmonic citron convergence! Will attempt candying presently, but it is so pretty, I hate to cut it up. If you like look at some pictures and articles in English and Yiddish


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