I’ve had a major crush on pistachios ever since I came back from Sicily. As the only region cultivating the nut in Italy, Sicily is especially proud of its “green gold,” serving them in both sweet and savory dishes. I was fascinated by the use of pistachios in pasta dishes, where they were often paired with seafood. Before I tasted it, I would never have imagined that this match would work.
Of course, I also enjoyed countless sweets in which pistachios were the star (cannoli and gelato come to mind), so I came back home determined to use them more often in my everyday cooking. When I recently had to create a dessert using seasonal strawberries, it was obvious to me that pistachios would also play a role—but matching strawberries and pistachios isn’t such an obvious idea for everyone. The Flavor Bible, my main recipe creation tool, specifically suggests avoiding this pairing altogether, stating that “pistachios can easily overpower” the taste of strawberries. After feeling bummed about this discovery (I really trust The Flavor Bible!), I decided I would try it anyway. I had the creamy, subtle, distinctive taste of the pistachio gelato brioche I had at Catania’s Nonna Vincenza pastry shop in mind. If I could turn pistachios into a cream, surely they would be the perfect support for Québec’s super sweet, juicy, slightly zingy strawberries, right?
Well, I’m no flavor expert, but I’ll say these verrines are spectacular. The strawberries, which I simply macerated in vanilla sugar, shine bright, and the pistachio cream creates a rich, velvety vehicle with an intriguing, slightly toasted flavor. Of course, the rich crumbs don’t hurt either, adding a fabulous buttery crunch to the mix. This dessert ticks all the boxes: juicy, nutty, creamy, crunchy, and sweet—but not overly so. That’s a winning dish in my book!
Makes 6 to 8 verrines (depending on the glass size)
For the pistachio paste
¾ cup [180 ml] unsalted pistachio nuts, shelled, peeled (see note)
1/3 cup [80 ml] sugar
¼ cup [60 ml] whole milk, or almond milk
For the pistachio cream
2 cups [500 ml] whole milk, or almond milk
2 egg yolks
¼ cup [60 ml] sugar
2 tbsp [30 ml] cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 tsp [5 ml] vanilla extract
For the macerated strawberries
1 pint fresh strawberries
1 tbsp [15 ml] sugar
¼ vanilla pod
For the pistachio crumble
¼ cup [60 ml] all purpose flour
¼ cup [60 ml] sugar
¼ cup [60 ml] unsalted pistachio nuts, shelled, chopped finely
2 tbsp [30 ml] butter, or dairy free buttery spread, cold
To make the pistachio paste: Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the shelled pistachios and simmer 2 minutes. Drain and rinse the nuts under cold water to cool them completely. Dry the nuts with paper towels when put them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the sugar and pulse until the pistachios are finely ground. Add the whole or almond milk and process until the mixture is as smooth and creamy as the food processor will make it (some tiny pistachio bits will remain and that’s ok).
To make the pistachio cream: Pour the whole or almond milk in a medium saucepan, add the pistachio paste, and heat until the mixture simmers (no need to bring it to a full boil). While the milk mixture is heating up, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. The mixture will be thick but make sure to whisk until it’s smooth (it’ll take just a minute or two).
When the milk mixture simmers, remove from the heat. Ladle about ½ cup [125 ml] hot milk and slowly pour it into the egg mixture. Make sure to whisk constantly while you slowly pour in the hot milk, this will ensure the eggs heat up gradually and don’t turn into scrambled eggs. Whisk another ½ cup [125 ml] hot milk into the egg mixture. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan containing the rest of the hot milk mixture, keeping on whisking while doing so. Put the saucepan back over low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the cream thickens to a pudding consistency, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Divide the pistachio among six to eight verrines (each glass should be filled to a generous third). Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until the cream is completely cool, about 2 hours.
To make the pistachio crumble: Preheat the oven to 350°F [175°C]. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and chopped pistachios together. Add the cold butter or dairy free buttery spread and incorporate it to the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, a fork, or your hands, until the mixture forms pea-sized crumbs. Spread the mixture on the cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes until the crumbs are golden (mixing the crumbs two to three times during baking allows them to brown more evenly). Let cool completely.
To make the macerated strawberries: Scrape the inside of the vanilla pod with the back of a knife blade to get the seeds. Place the seeds and the sugar in a small plate and use a fork to mix the vanilla seeds into the sugar. Fifteen to thirty minutes before service, quarter the strawberries and place them in a large bowl. Dust with the vanilla sugar, mix gently to coat the berries, and leave to macerate at room temperature until ready to assemble the verrines (or at least 15 minutes).
To assemble the verrines: Take the verrines out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving to bring them back to room temperature. Divide the macerated strawberries between each serving. Generously sprinkle with pistachio crumbs. Serve right away!
Recipe Credit: Marie Asselin. The recipe was previously published in French by Fou des foodies.