Pizzuta d'Avola - Sicily's Most Famous Almond
Pizzuta d'Avola is the most famous almond in Sicily, consequently Italy. It is rarely seen, since it is used mainly in high quality pastries in Italy. Here is your chance to taste a remarkable nut. This is not your normal almond. It is very large in size, up to 1-1/2 inches in length, over ½ inch wide, with rust colored skin. Its taste is an intense milky flavor with a light, pleasant bitter note. Pizzuta d’Avola has about 1% amigdalin in it, which accounts for its “almondy” taste.
Grown near Noto, in south eastern Sicily, this variety is very early, flowering mid winter. It is also a low producer. Picking these almonds is done before the almonds start to fall. The hull is removed and the nuts are dried under Sicily’s August sun. Drying takes 3-4 days, until you can hear the meat rattle in the shell. When shelled, the nut meats are screened both mechanically and manually to separate the sizes. This almond’s size means that it cannot be eaten as our Californian almonds are, but must be bitten into several pieces. Its delicious flavor, more intense than what we produce in California, allows it to be used for many preparations. The Pizzuta can be lightly roasted or fried in oil, but its best characteristic is serving it “au naturel,” for snacking on or as something smooth and delicious at the end of dinner. Its flavor is very long and accompanies dry sparkling wines very well. Good tawny port, lightly chilled, is another suggestion.
If you bake with almonds, then the Pizzuta is perfect for you. It has a more intense flavor. A pleasant after dinner exercise would be to taste the Pizzuta with other raw almond varieties such as California’s Nonpareil, shelled Marconas and Larguetas from Spain. Their differences will be immediately apparent. Not all almonds are equal!
Frantoi Celletti: Monocultivar Extra Virgin Olive Oils
Frantoi Celletti is the name of a selection of single variety oils offered by Gino Celletti, an oil merchant and restaurateur in Milano who has made his mark offering spectacular oils from mono cultivars both in his restaurant and to others. He is now embarking on a venture in Beijing where he will have a 1,500 square meter restaurant using his mono varietal oils with dishes that reflect the Italian regions where the oils are produced. It will open for the Olympics. Gino is also the chief judge at the Oil China olive oil tasting in Beijing. His oils have also won several Best of Show prizes at the Los Angeles International Olive Oil competition at Pomona.
Single variety olive oils are pretty much a new concept in oil production. It is now thought that perhaps the finest oils will be mono cultivars rather than field blends as is traditional. However looked at, Frantoi Celletti oils are special and are from some special cultivars, rarely seen here. I have selected seven as this initial offering: Bianchera from Friuli Triestino; Bosana from Sardinia; Brisighella from Emilia Romagna; Tonda Iblea from Sicily; Razzola from Liguria; Casaliva from Trentino; and Caninese from Lazio. Italy alone has some 715 varieties of olives. This promises a lot of new tastes in Italian oil!