Aylin Öney Tan - [email protected]
Pistachio is a passion for the people of Gaziantep, and the city is surely Turkey’s capital of pistachios where most dishes, either savory or sweet, take their generous share of the greenest nut. The end of the summer is the period when pistachio pickers constantly check the groves for the ideal harvest time. For the greenest and sweetest pistachios that are fit for the finest baklava, the pistachio has to be picked when the nut is not fully grown, almost in its embryonic state. The early harvest season starts as early as the end of July. For fuller and riper nuts, ideally to be roasted as a snack, the harvest could be postponed through September. Depending on the heat waves, mid-August is usually considered the official pistachio harvest kick off.
This year, the Greater Municipality of Gaziantep celebrated the pistachio harvest with top chefs of Turkey, professionals of the gastronomy sector. The inauguration of the harvest took place in the Gevence Teketaşı village, close to the Syrian border, hosted by Mayor Fatma Şahin, always a passionate promoter of Gaziantep cuisine. With Mayor Şahin’s perseverance, Gaziantep has been designated as a City of Gastronomy in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and now the city is taking many actions to make its food culture internationally recognized. One way to promote gastronomy is through introducing local products to top chefs. The city has an abundant range of local produce beyond the precious pistachio.
During the breakfast panel chaired by Gökmen Sözen editor/founder of Food in Life magazine, who had been instrumental in bringing the best chefs of Turkey to Gaziantep, the topic was rightfully chosen as “Local Produce in the Gastronomy Sector.” During the two-day gastronomy expedition, 180 professionals from the food sector had the chance to explore local products and specialties of Gaziantep from picking hot peppers to watching baklava masters at work, loaded with ideas to inspire their creativity back in their kitchens.
Every year the pistachio yield fluctuates, if one year is considered bountiful, the next year is doomed to be a tough year. This year it is the turn of the tough year. The yield is way behind the former, yet the taste and quality is just as good. The municipality has called to implement a pistachio action plan with all MP’s of the city, to unite to increase pistachio yield and to promote the product worldwide. One of course wonders whether it is better to keep the local pistachio as a secret, if the world chefs start to demand the already highly precious and pricey pistachio, we may end up seeing it in jewelry showcases. Better to consume it abundantly while we can, (if we can) afford it with its hefty price tag, though every single one is worth every penny paid.
Bite of the Week
Recipe of the Week: It is a pity that the pistachio is mostly associated with sweets in Turkey. The tender sweetness of early harvest pistachios naturally call for desserts, but this delicate sweetness also balances savory tastes whether it be in a juicy kebab, or in a sharp tangy cheese meze. Of course, pistachios make a perfect pesto, one does not even need the basil for the bright green color so iconic of a pesto sauce. Whizz together 1½ cups of tender, early harvest raw pistachios, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (the greenest possible), 1 clove garlic and ½ teaspoon salt. That is it. This gives the most intense pistachio taste, but if you feel like having an herby flavor, add a handful of basil leaves or for a fresher twist, half a bunch of flat leaf parsley. Likewise, believe this pistachio pesto does not even need cheese, and can be totally vegan, but for cheese fans an old, sharp Kaşar cheese can easily replace Parmesan. Actually, you can create your own pistachio pesto and use it beyond pasta, as a sauce for anything, especially a young potato salad.
Fork of the Week: If there is one way to explore the amazing usage of pistachio other than baklava in Gaziantep, then you have to head for Orkide Patisserie. They make the most amazing range of pistachio cookies, especially the one made in the old-fashioned macaroon style, which is so densely packed with pistachios that it almost feels sinful to eat. Another delight is their deep green pistachio paste that will find itself easily both on the breakfast table as a delectable spread, and as a powerful ingredient in baking and desserts. All so heavenly good!
Cork of the Week: A plate of fresh pistachio pesto pasta calls for another delightfully fresh Sauvignon Blanc. When I consulted my wine expert friend Mehmet Emin Türkat, our mutual verdict was this plate would balance perfectly with the Likya Winery Arykanda Sauvignon Blanc 2015. Here are his tasting notes: Refreshing Sauvignon Blanc from 1000 mt altitude vineyards in the Taurus Mountains; expressive fruit with gooseberry aromatics, lime zest and touch of tropical fruits along with fresh cut grass and asparagus. Now that is exactly what the freshest tender pistachios call for!