A Pistachio Inspired Pranzo
A review of Il Fiorentino, Bronte, Sicily
Another lovely blue-skied day in Sicily. Today’s adventure and culinary find takes us from the aquamarine sea to a mountain top and then half-way down the other side. All this to reach our lunch (pranzo) destination, Il Fiorentino, in the paise (village) of Bronte. Bronte is well-known for its pistachios grown in the foothills of Mt. Etna. Sicilians take pride in this regional nut, claiming the minerals from the lava in the earth give the pistachios a special richness and intensity to their flavor.
It is a Monday and most eateries are closed on Mondays. Roberto called ahead to double-check and the owner replied, “Si!, viene!” Winding curvy roads, with views that resembled the Rocky Mountains, the terrain suddenly dips down into vast open meadows filled with colorful cows and even llamas. Around another corner and Roberto immediately swings into a street parking spot right in front of the restaurant. Arriviamo! We walk through the beaded curtain entrance and are greeted by Pino, the owner. A warm, fuzzy feeling takes over, like I am entering a friend’s home, someone who has lived here for a very long time. The room’s light comes only through its windows. Old memorabilia line the walls and shelves while crisp, white tablecloths anchor the maybe 10 tables. Charming. As it happened, Il Fiorentino is closed but Pino opens just for us! We will have a private pranzo, cooked to order.
Interior of Il Fiorentino, Pistachios are their specialty!Pino is a small man, maybe mid 60’s, conservatively dressed in a shirt and buttoned up v-neck sweater, wearing a closed-lipped grin. He hands us menus but Roberto clearly knows the ropes and orders for both of us. A bottle of water and a carafe of red wine are placed on the table and the feast begins.
A trio of caramelized onion, pomodoro and herb bruschetta sets the tone for the meal. Roberto orders a primi of antipasto to share. An abundance and variety of textures and colors activates my taste buds. Caponata, green beans, home-cured salami, local olives and caciocavallo cheese, fried potatoes and two kinds of stuffed and fried squash blossoms fill every corner of the plate. I first dig into the fried, mozzarella-stuffed squash blossom, its cheese oozing all over my fork. The salty, melting warmth brings forth a squeal of delight. Pino’s grin widens as he watches me eat with such pleasure. I enjoy the local caciocavallo cheese so much, he returns with another large slice and sets it next to me. So sweet.
Il Fiorentino’s menu offers two kinds of their specialty pasta with pistachios, “Casarecci al Pistacchio.” It is a warm day and Pino suggests the “red” pasta with tomato, eggplant and onion for me. Roberto likes the “white” pasta in a light cream sauce. The presentation in beautiful Sicilian ceramic bowls make this experience extra special. Both dishes are heavily dusted with freshly chopped pistachios. Pino makes sure I understand that he has picked and shelled these pistachios. I eat slowly, savoring every bite. When I reach the bottom of my bowl to scrape every last morsel onto my fork, I am greeted by a smiling sun face! It was if she is saying, “I’m glad you enjoyed me so much!”
Our plates are cleared away and Pino asks, “Would you like some cherries?” Certo! A bowl of just picked and perfectly ripe burgundy beauties is placed between us and we eagerly bite into the juicy flesh. Pino is obviously still enjoying our display of delight with his food.
Il Fiorentino’s specialty dessert is pistachio gelato served with pistachio cake. Even though I am feeling pasta-full, I cannot resist dessert. I take a scoop of the intensely flavored, nutty gelato and smear it on top of the cake to eat them together. Ice cream and cake! I especially love the moist cake with a slightly sugar crunch on top. My pastry mind is putting the ingredients together. Meringue? Flourless? So enamored with the cake, I ask Pino how it is made. He shrugs his shoulders and then leads me to the kitchen to meet his wife, Franca, who is the star chef of the restaurant. Delighted by the compliment, she eagerly shares her recipe with me. I am overwhelmed by her kindness.
For me, this is the definition of a great dining experience. Besides fantastic fresh food, it’s the warm hospitality in a comfortable home-like setting. Mostly, it’s Pino and Franca who so lovingly share their livelihood, that forever will endear me to Il Fiorentino. If you are ever in Sicily, do not miss the opportunity to dine with them!
Here is Franca’s recipe for the Pistachio Cake.
Franca's Sicilian Pistachio Cake
- 200 grams sugar Approximately 1 cup
- 3 eggs separated
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 250 grams raw, unsalted ground pistachios Approximately 2 cups ground pistachios
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8 or 9 inch springform pan. Sprinkle with sugar to coat bottom and sides.
- Beat sugar with egg yolks in a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes.
- Add vanilla and beat well to incorporate. Transfer sugar-yolk mixture to a large bowl.
- Clean mixer bowl. Add egg whites and beat until soft peaks form. Add salt and continue beating until whites hold their shape. Do not overbeat.
- Fold whipped egg whites into sugar-yolk mixture.
- Fold in ground pistachios.
- Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.
- Let cool, then invert onto platter. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Glossary of Italian words used in this story. Your Italian lesson for the day!
Pranzo – Lunch
Viene – Come, come in
Arriviamo – We have arrived.
Primi – First course
Certo – Certainly
Pomodoro – Tomato
Paise – Village
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf,
Ciao for now!