«Dried fruit is a popular tradition in our eating habits. During the celebrations of the patron saint in every village we find stalls selling peanuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and so on. And at Christmas there is no lunch or dinner without an expanse of walnut kernels on the table”, says Cristian Torsiello, a forty-year-old chef from Valva, a village perched on the hills in the province of Salerno.
In his elegant restaurant in Paestum and from the height of his Michelin stars (including the green one for sustainability) he uses dried fruit in haute savory cuisine. «In addition to the consistency and flavor – she states – it gives that non-animal fat support but vegetal that blends the ingredients well, which cleans the palate.”
An example is the salad recipe (below) with cashew nuts. Another is the use of pine nuts with the fillet and rue oil: «A sweet flavor, never intrusive, which goes well with the flavor of the rue».
Obviously the chef suggests study well each variety to make the best use of them. «As in the case – he explains – of hazelnuts, equally good from Giffoni and Alba. The latter more famous ones are fatter, ideal for hazelnut paste. Those from Giffoni (in Campania) are more austere, drier, they give a longer flavor when chewed, they are perfect for making nougat.”
There dried fruit However, it did not need to be cleared of haute cuisine, especially since it is now defined by nutritionists as “smart food”, i.e. a healthy and balanced ingredient, rich in vitamins, mineral salts and proteins. With the arrival of autumn, even supermarket counters are full of nuts or already packaged fruit, from chestnuts (dried or smoked) and then other varieties in view of Halloween, the Festival of the Dead in Sicily and finally Christmas.
Italy is heavily dependent on foreign countries because our production is not enough but it is growing: new hazelnut groves have been planted in Lazio (Viterbo is the first province with 26% of production), Piedmont, Campania and Calabria. New almond orchards have sprung up in Sicily, Basilicata and Umbria, while in Maccarese, in Lazio, there is the largest in Europe (130 hectares), which just a few months ago began marketing 200 gram and 1 kg packs.
After all, already ancient Romans they were crazy about almonds, considered a symbol of fertility. Indispensable in desserts, they are also used to produce oil and flavor foods and drinks. As for pistachios, 99.7% of Italian pistachios grow between Bronte sull’Etna and Raffadali (Agrigento). The production of chestnuts (Italy is the 6th largest producer in the world) is widespread in areas ranging from south to north, as is that of walnuts.
Among the new features is the return to Ispica – in south-eastern Sicily – of the cultivation of sesame, which had disappeared for about fifty years. Thanks to the young Gambuzza brothers and other young people it has now also obtained recognition as a Slow Food presidium. Finally, there are even those who focus on peanuts made in Italy. Seven thousand years after the first cultivations in South America, a few months ago in the province of Ferrara there was the first harvest of peanuts, smaller and darker than the imported varieties, but with a more intense flavour.
The recipe for asparagus and cashew salad by Cristian Torsiello, 1 Michelin star, Osteria Arbustico – Paestum