During these strange times, it's a shame we can't travel and explore the beauty of the world and its different culinary specialities. For many of us, our favourite restaurant has become our home, some of us have learnt new skills, others have become more adventurous at preparing delicious dishes. We'd like you to travel, at least with your mind, by telling you about the places we love, their history, what they are famous for and their traditions in the kitchen. Are you ready? Then let's teleport to Sicily, the spectacular island in the south of Italy, to a town called Bronte, built on the slopes of Europe’s most spectacular volcano, Mount Etna. Mount Etna dominates the entire province of Catania, sitting up like a black cone (white in winter thanks to snow) which can be seen from 250km away. Although there is an ever-present threat of eruption, the surrounding towns and cities are proud of this natural treasure. In the past, Etna acted as a natural lighthouse for sailors - the sight of it alone was enough to navigate without the need of a compass. For Sicilians, it has acted as an anemometer as the smoke at the top showed which way the winds were moving and a barometer where cloud formations at its heights could help predict weather.
Bronte – the city of pistachios
Bronte is a small town at the foot of the volcano, on which its economy depends. It's called "The city of pistachios" because its volcanic and clay heavy soil is perfect for cultivation of the pistachio fruit and techniques for growing it have been handed down over generations for centuries. A tradition which has been inherited from the Arab domination of Sicily. In fact, it was the Arabs, who landed in Sicily in 827 and became masters of the entire island around 902, that brought pistachios to this area. Around Bronte there's an extraordinary combination between the plants that grow and the lava rich soil, which is continuously fertilised by volcanic ash falling - the perfect environment for growing the best pistachios in the world.
Due to the many eruptions of the past (the town has narrowly avoided being destroyed 3 times since 1651), the layers of lava and the ancient clay soils are excellent for cultivation and traditionally, inhabitants have mostly been farmers. What makes this area unique is its location on Etna. The town is at the foothills of the volcano which extends up to the central crater, with altitudes ranging from 380 meters to 3350, representing one of the most interesting landscapes in Sicily. On top of the natural beauty of the area, the town is also rich in history. Pay a visit to the Church of Annunziata, built in the 1500s housing stunning paintings and a unique lava stone window. You'll also find the Capizzi Gallery which is an impressive library where many of the islands elite from the past were educated. We all of course know of the famous Nelson's Column, a major landmark in London, but you may not have heard of Nelson's Castle which resides in the town of Bronte. It was King Ferdinand I who, as a token of his thanks, on 3rd September 1799, made Admiral Nelson the Duke of Bronte and gifted him this castle. There is a beautiful garden and an Arab-Norman church which can be visited on the site. Bronte is a very picturesque town to visit, where you can still experience the authentic Sicily and at the same time, shop for some high quality local products in the many little shops along the winding streets of the town. We recommend visiting late September and early October when the town comes alive and celebrates the gastronomic jewel of Bronte, for the annual Pistachio Festival. During this time, you will find guided tours of the town, exhibitions, shows and of course a lot of pistachios. Are you hungry after this tour? We are too! Let’s cook one of our favourite traditional dishes from Bronte.
Recipe: Penne al pistachio
120g unsalted pistachios, plus a few more for sprinkling on top (optional)
1 small onion diced
2 tablespoons BellaTerra Monte Etna D.O.P. extra virgin olive oil
120g pancetta (we like smoked), cut in small cubes
1/4 cup brandy
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and black pepper, as desired
Dried penne pasta
10 cherry tomatoes
Blitz the pistachios in a food processor and process until very finely ground.
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to the boil.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and set aside.
Place the oil in a large frying pan and bring to a medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the pancetta and the cherry tomatoes to the pan and sauté for about 5 minutes.
Add the brandy and reduce the alcohol completely ensuring nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan by scraping with a wooden spoon.
Add salt and pepper as desired.
Add the cream and ground pistachios to the pan and stir to combine.
Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and add the pasta to the pan. Toss for 1-2 minutes on a low heat and serve immediately.
Sprinkle with coarsely chopped pistachios.
Interested in tasting volcanic grown olive oil?
Our Monte Etna D.O.P. extra virgin olive oil is produced by a passionate, second generation Sicilian family, in the town of Bronte. The family have been dedicated to producing the finest olive oil since 1969. Mount Etna erupts every year covering the surrounding area in volcanic ash, enriching the olive groves.
Made with a blend of Nocellara Etnea, Biancolilla and Moresca olives, strictly grown and produced in the protected zone of Mount Etna gaining the prestigious D.O.P status (Protected Designation of Origin).