Farfalle with Pistachio Cream Sauce

Pasta with Pistachio Pesto

People keep asking me why, if I’m living in Sicily, I haven’t posted any Italian or Sicilian recipes on this site. Well, the answer is simple. I just don’t cook Italian food at home that often because I can go out and get really good pasta or pizza anytime I want. In fact, it’s very difficult to find restaurants in Sicily that serve anything but Italian food.  I love the food here, but we like to experiment with different things at home.  However, many of my recipes have been influenced by the foods that are readily available here and new cooking techniques that I have picked up over the last few years.  While the recipes you find here might not be Italian, many of them are born from my culinary experiences here in Sicily.

But there are a few Sicilian dishes I like to make at home that I will definitely be sharing with you over time and hopefully the list will continue to grow. One of my favorites is Pasta con Pesto al Pistacchio or Pasta with Pistachio Sauce. Variations of this dish can be found in most restaurants here, but this recipe that I learned during a cooking class is my favorite version. The best part is that it’s really fast and simple to make!

Pistachios from Bronte, Sicily

The pistachios grown here in Sicily are prized for their brilliant green color and are exported throughout the world. The majority of the nuts come from Bronte, an area situated on the base of Mount Etna. In the United States it seems that pistachios are most often eaten out of hand, but Sicilians use pistachios in a wide variety of both sweet and savory treats.  Perhaps most famous is the pistachio gelato, which I believe is the best gelato flavor in the world.  But you will also find several types of pistachio cakes, cookies, candies and pastries. Of the savory dishes, this pasta is my favorite.

Farfalle with Pistachio Cream Sauce

8 oz. farfalle or penne pasta
1/2 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
1/4 C. ground pistachio (unsalted nuts, ground in a blender or food processor)
2 T. olive oil (plus a little extra)
1/2 – 3/4 C. heavy cream (according to taste)
crushed red pepper
fresh ground black pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to boil.  In the meantime, chop onion and grind the pistachios until the pieces are very small but not completely uniform.  Add pasta to water and boil according to package directions.

While pasta is cooking, begin sauce: heat olive oil in a medium saute pan, add onion and cook until translucent but not browned.  Add pistachios and enough oil to moisten them (if needed). It should be a paste-like consistency.  Cook, stirring, over medium heat for about one minute (do not let the pistachios take on any color).  Add cream, stir until heated through, then remove from heat.  Add a pinch of crushed red pepper, black pepper and plenty of salt to taste.

When pasta is al dente, drain well then add to the saute pan with the sauce. Toss well to coat and serve immediately with lots of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Serves four as a first course.

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  1. amanda

    ooo, nicole! this looks awesome. pistachios happen to be one of my all time favorite nuts. here in the u.s. i’ve never seen a pistachio pesto before, but i definately find it intriguing. and hey! it’s got heavy cream in it so it must be good! i don’t normal do a lot of straight cooking from the blogs but i think i’m going to attempt this some time in the next few weeks. 🙂

    4:34 pm  Dec 27th, 2006
  2. rachel

    So pretty! I don’t even like pistachios and I am half tempted to try it!

    5:20 pm  Dec 27th, 2006
  3. Nicole

    Thanks Amanda! This recipe is so basic that it’s very easy to change it up and make it your own 🙂

    Rachel, they also do similar pasta dishes using almonds so you could try that instead of pistachios if you want!

    5:33 pm  Dec 27th, 2006
  4. Ivonne

    Oh, Nicole!

    This is on my “must must must must must try list”! I’m not sure why (I’m a bit slow), but it never really sunk in until now that you’re living in Sicily. Keep the recipes coming!

    5:56 pm  Dec 27th, 2006
  5. Vanessa

    Hi Pinchy! This recipe looks like the exact tonic to an overwhelming ham, cheese, cookie, fest that we’ve been indulging in over here. I absolutely agree that pistachio gelato is the best and it is so unfortunate that I cannot just stroll down the block for some whenever I want…just not possible in Wisconsin. I’ll be trying this recipe pronto! I also adore your dog smack…what a cutie!

    7:02 pm  Dec 27th, 2006
  6. Orchidea

    Very nice pasta dish… I like pistacchi.

    7:12 pm  Dec 27th, 2006
  7. Ruby Berry

    I was thinking about making this, but decided to hold off until you can come back and make it for me! Always taste better, when you make it Nicole! 🙂

    8:29 pm  Dec 27th, 2006
  8. Patricia Scarpin

    Nicole, what a lovely dish! I love the color of pistachios, it’s so intense!

    I’m having people over next week and this would make a wonderful main dish!

    8:50 pm  Dec 27th, 2006
  9. Nicole

    Hi Ivonne, yes I’m in Sicily 🙂 Hope you enjoy this!

    Hi Vanessa, I’ve sampled pistacchio gelato in other parts of Italy and I must say that I am very lucky to be in Sicily. It’s definitely best down here! I’ll tell Smack you said hi 😉

    Ciao Orchidea! Thanks 🙂

    Hey Ruby, of course I’ll make it for you next time I’m in town. Sorry it didn’t happen this last time!

    Hi Patricia! I hope you and your guests enjoy it 🙂

    9:34 pm  Dec 27th, 2006
  10. emon

    Thanks for the sidebar add! Now the big question is, when is your podcast happening?

    4:49 am  Dec 28th, 2006
  11. pria

    That recipe looks awesome:-))

    4:52 pm  Dec 28th, 2006
  12. Jessica

    I will definitely try this, it looks delicious!

    5:39 pm  Dec 28th, 2006
  13. Nicole

    emon: hmmm…not sure about a podcast. You’d have to come here and help me with it 😉

    aurie: Thanks! I think I’ll keep the Christmas theme around for a few more days…I’m not ready to let it go! Hope you had a good meal!

    Jessica: Hope you try it sometime! Thanks for stopping by!

    8:50 pm  Dec 28th, 2006
  14. experienceaurie

    I love your new colours for Christmas. The theme is so nice. That’s some good pasta. Ok I gotta go eat.

    5:09 pm  Dec 28th, 2006
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    1:03 am  Jan 1st, 2007
  16. madchilli


    This dish brings back memories of my time living in Italy for a year in 2003/2004. One of the places I grew to love was Sicily, especially Catania. We were taken to Bronte by my partner’s relative and had a dish similar to this one with the Bronte pistachio. It was sublime. We also had pistachio gelato. Beautiful.

    3:41 am  Jan 3rd, 2007
  17. Megan

    I just found your blog and I’m so glad I did! This pasta looks amazing – I’ll definitely have to give it a try. I look forward to reading more about your Sicilian adventures and recipes!

    4:32 pm  Jan 5th, 2007
  18. carne al fuoco - il piacere del barbecue


    SIMPLY AMAZING.. Great RECIPES, congratulations for the blog;-)

    carnealfuoco.it – il piacere del barbecue

    4:42 pm  Jan 17th, 2007
  19. the chocolate lady

    This is so lovely, Nicole, much more complex and nuanced than the pistachio sauce I made (which was also pretty good–pistachios are so wonderful!) I am enjoying your writing and photography so much–I continue to be amazed anew every day by the wealth of deliciousness food bloggers have to offer!

    10:06 pm  Feb 1st, 2007
  20. JB

    I am making this recipe tonight, would it be ok to post a link to your post from my blog tomorrow?


    6:56 pm  Feb 14th, 2007
  21. Katerina

    I made this last night and it was absolutely wonderful, thanks a ton!

    7:43 pm  Feb 22nd, 2007
  22. Robin Brown

    Nicole, My family and I just moved from Sicily to Tennessee. Talk about Italian food withdrawal! I was having a bad craving for the pistcchio pasta I used to eat in Motta Sant Anastasia at La Masseria del Cavaliere and I did not have the recipe. I sort of knew the ingredients that went into the pasta and I found your wonderful site. Your recipe is right on the mark! Grazie! Thank-you!!

    9:52 pm  Apr 10th, 2007
  23. Augustina

    I loved this dish! Thanku for sharing it. I love pistachios AND pasta so the two together was quite a treat for me. This is something I’ll definitely make again and again. 🙂

    4:08 am  May 1st, 2007
  24. Jake

    This is one of my most favorite dishes and frequently ordered when I was in Sicily. I cant wait to make it!

    3:06 am  Jun 14th, 2007
  25. Marilyn

    I just came back from Sicily and had this for the first time. Thanks for posting it. I just loved it.

    3:45 pm  Oct 8th, 2007
  26. Maria

    Hi, we just came back from bella Sicilia two weeks ago where we had pasta con pistacchio all the time. I am so happy to find your simple recipe. Where are you in Sicilia? I used to live in Pedara near Nicolosi. Keep those Sicilian recipes coming. Maria

    7:10 am  May 28th, 2008
  27. Nicole

    Ciao Maria! We lived for two years in San Pietro Clarenza, not too far from Nicolosi and Pedara! I really miss living on Etna. My husband is in the Navy so we were stationed at the base near Catania for four years total but we’re back in the states now. I would definitely like to post some more Sicilian recipes, though!

    7:30 am  May 28th, 2008
  28. Ngoc

    Hi there! Just stumbled across this recipe, and had to make it. I subbed hazelnuts for the pistachios, and it came out divine, but I can’t wait to make it again with pistachios. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

    11:42 am  Jan 17th, 2009
  29. Shagun

    Delicious is the word (just had it for dinner)…thanks for the great recipe, Nicole!

    7:16 pm  Oct 26th, 2009
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  31. Ryan

    Perfect….Full of flavor and not to heavy…pan seared some chicken breast tenderloins then cooked the sauce in the same vessel, chopped up the chicken into chunks then added back to the sauce…will definitely put this dish into the rotation…..THANKS 🙂

    4:30 pm  Jun 2nd, 2010
  32. Nick

    Hi , this looks great,however i have 2 questions:
    1)Do you use raw or toasted pistachios?
    2)Do you have a Pistachio pasta recipe instead of using cream,using cherry tomatoes?

    Thanks and i think sicilian food is the best of the world, cos i they keep it so simple..

    1:00 am  Jul 11th, 2010
  33. Nicole

    Nick: I used raw pistachios, although toasted would work in a pinch. Unsalted would be best. And this is the only pistachio pasta recipe I’ve tried, although I’ve had pistachio pesto in Sicily that does not have cream. You can saute the onions and crushed pistachios in oil and toss in some halved cherry tomatoes to warm them. Season with salt and pepper and toss with pasta. The crushed red pepper would still be a good addition 🙂

    11:35 am  Jul 11th, 2010
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  35. Ross

    That looks divine! I’m a sucker for anything with a cream sauce, but that one in particular looks great!

    9:42 am  Jul 20th, 2010
  36. Valérie

    I’ve never heard of pistachio pasta. I’m really, really intrigued! It looks delicious!

    9:35 am  Jul 21st, 2010
  37. Liz from Simple Italian Cooking

    I have never heard of this and I’m Italian – but I don’t live in Italy so that must be why! Next time pistachios are on sale, I’ll try it. The recipe is so simple, I’ve already memorized it. 🙂 What about any other kind of nuts?

    7:48 pm  Jul 21st, 2010
  38. Amanda

    One word: YUM.

    1:55 pm  Jul 27th, 2010
  39. Alelunetta

    ah that’s delicious! I like to add some diced bacon too, to give a little boost to the pistachio sweetness!
    @Liz it’s a very local & typical sicilian recipe, you won’t find it in other italian regions so that’s, probably, why you’ve never heard about it!

    10:51 am  Aug 4th, 2010
  40. The Gouda Life

    Holy moly was this EVER good. I did a post about it on my blog and people are going nuts about it.
    I didn’t have red pepper flakes so subbed in some cayenne but it was perfect and delicious none the less.

    Thank you SO much for this recipe and all the other great ones on your blog. I am a huge huge fan. 🙂


    12:14 pm  Aug 26th, 2010
  41. Julie

    this look so yummy! can’t wait to try it out.
    thanks for the post!

    1:46 pm  Sep 15th, 2010
  42. Cathy

    Just made this tonight and absolutely loved it!!! This will be a great new recipe to add into the rotation….thank you!!

    6:16 pm  Mar 30th, 2011
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  44. Islechick

    Can’t wait to try this, just moved to Catania and tried this in a restaurant in downtown a few weeks ago and I was so hoping I could come close to duplicating what I ate.

    10:05 am  Aug 28th, 2011
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  47. Malia

    I can’t believe that this cream base sauce is that simple. I returned from Sicily this past Sunday, so I am anxious to test out your recipe. I did bring back ground up pistacio nuts specifically to try to mimic this dish. I tried this dish at a handful of restaurants to see if the taste would vary, but to my surprise it was all very consistent. I have not been a big pistachio fan, but I am a believer now!

    2:39 pm  Aug 1st, 2012
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  49. Maria

    I was just in Sicily this summer and I just love this dish! Brings back memories of fun times. Can’t wait to go again, Thanks

    11:16 am  Oct 23rd, 2012
  50. David

    I have been to Sicily and this absolutely my favorite pasta that I ever had! It’s so creamy and delicious! It’s a must try if you love pasta at all!!

    5:04 pm  Apr 14th, 2014
  51. Sonja

    Can you use this same sauce for the pistachio pizza that I used to love eating from a restruant there in Motta. The pasta and the pizza are the two things that I reallc miss about living in Sicily.

    5:27 pm  Jul 15th, 2014
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  54. Deborah Eckerd

    I have been looking for a recipe like this since I went to Sicily in 2002. I had penne in pistachio cream sauce at a restaurant in Bel Passo. It was amazing. I am going to have to try this version soon. Thanks

    1:32 pm  Oct 14th, 2016
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