Pistachio gelato, made properly, relies upon nothing but pistachios, milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, and salt for its flavor and color. That’s why true pistachio gelato isn’t Frankenstein green. Spoons at the ready!
I’m convinced that in a past life I was an Italian woman with strong arms and solid legs, my nylons rolled down around my swollen peasant ankles. Because like signoras of years gone by, 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 as I shell 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. (They’re 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 shell faster as they huddle together, crying, as they ping 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 pints of nuclear-green ice cream 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
It’s not just the shelling of the pistachios that could lead one to martyrdom. It’s the peeling of the pistachios, too. Ideally those pesky, papery, bitter-tasting husks that cling rather pestilently to the pistachio nut must come off, too. The easiest way to make this happen–aside from hiring those neighborhood children–is to blanch the shelled pistachios in boiling water, thoroughly drain the nuts, toss them in a large kitchen towel, and briskly rub, rub, rub until your upper arms will allow you to rub no more. Dump the pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and pore over them, wearing spectacles if you must, so you can spy and strip any lingering 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.
- Ice cream maker
- 2 1/2 cups shelled unsalted pistachios plus at least another cup for snacking
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup granulated 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 seemingly no time. 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. Let it cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- Churn the gelato according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Toss in the coarsely ground pistachios during the last few minutes of processing, when the gelato starts to swell and make those mesmerizing waves as it goes round and round and round. Those are how you know the gelato is ready. Scoop the gelato into a plastic container, cover, and freeze until solid. And then try not to consume it all in a single sitting.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The whole process was very easy to follow and the ice cream was done in no time, apart from waiting for the custard to cool. The final product was a gelato that’s perfect for the pistachio aficionado. It’s not your usual creamy ice cream nor your icy sorbet but rather a nice blend of both, just as a true gelato should be.
It was far from sugary, so if you’re inclined to a sweeter taste, I would advise adding about 1/4 cup more sugar, but certainly not more than that.
Originally published August 10, 2003
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
I love pistachio gelato, and this is a top-notch recipe. Very simple and easy to make, it packs an amazing amount of pistachio flavor without any artificial pastes, colorings, or essences. The verdant green color along with the crunchy bits of pistachio is certainly an exotic treat for the pistachio lover–and even if you aren’t one yet, this will certainly make you one.
The gelato wasn’t overly sweet and, indeed, it was perfect, as anything sweeter would have completely masked the pistachio flavor. It’s just how a gelato should be. Heaven in every spoonful. This will be a regular gelato in our household.