Sicilian Pistachio Cookies (Biscotti al Pistacchio)

Charming bite-sized, powder-coated Sicilian pistachio cookies, biscotti al pistacchio, inspired by a visit to Mona Talbott's kitchen and the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome.

Sicilian Pistachio Cookies (Biscotti al Pistacchio)

My discovery of these perfect little pistachio cookies happened in a roundabout way. It was 11:30 a.m. on one of my last mornings in Rome. I found myself walking down the Janiculum Hill toward the Trastevere section of the city below. The view is expansive, and I would stop now and then to pick out buildings and landmarks, or take the occasional snapshot. My bag was heavy, and a glance inside revealed a just-picked pomegranate, two books and a kraft-paper bag filled with a toasty pepita and amaranth-flecked granola. I spent the morning visiting Mona Talbott at the American Academy in Rome, and I'm sure it is no surprise to those of you who know Mona or her work - it was one of the most inspiring mornings I've had in a long time. And it introduced me to this special little cookie.
small pistachio cookies on marble counter

The American Academy in Rome weaves itself into my life now and then. Years back, when I would help research potential speakers for TED, I would regularly spend time exploring the work of Rome Prize winners. Prior to that, I fell for this delightful little "insider" guidebook of must-visit places in Rome. It was compiled from the collective knowledge of many academy fellows and friends - a mix of writers, architects, designers, scholars, and the like. My copy is nearly ten years old, and it's the one book we still bring along whenever we pass through Rome.

There are some inspiring things going on at the Academy. One of which is the Rome Sustainable Food Project. You can read about it in more depth here and here. In a nutshell, it's one of the few places I've encountered where institutional dining is not only worth celebrating, but worth emulating as well. Alice Waters and Mona Talbott have been successful in working within the academy to create a meaningful food culture meant to nourish and support individual well-being, scholarship, and conviviality. My experience has been that institutional dining has much need for improvement. Inspiration is much needed, and it was great to encounter a fresh point of view far from home.

Actually! Come to think of it, another inspiring example of food being integrated into the fabric of an institution is at the Oxbow School in Napa, California. Their school lunch, under chef Tracy Bates, sets the bar. There's still no place I'd rather have lunch in Napa — alongside the kids, overlooking the river. And I don't think it's any coincidence that Mona and Tracy are friends, or that both of them are Chez Panisse alumni.
small pistachio cookies on marble counter
Mona showed me the kitchen at the Academy, and the gardens, and the spot on the lawn where Galileo first demonstrated his telescope in Rome. The Academy occupies the highest point inside the walls of historic Rome. Elizabeth Minchilli joined us, I met the other academy cooks, had a perfect macchiato, and tasted a spicy little gem of a cookie baked by Mirella Misenti.
small pistachio cookies (biscotti) on marble counter

Mirella's story is fascinating in it's own right. She was the dishwasher at the academy. She now spearheads pastry and has co-authored Biscotti with Mona. It's the just-published first book in a series of tiny, thoughtful books that we will see come out of the Rome Sustainable Food Project. It sounds like there there will be a volume on pasta, one on soup, and so on.

I baked Mirella's Sicilian pistachio cookies as soon as I got home. They look snow-dusted from a distance, but reveal dense, pistachio-green crumb. They're made from a haul of the best pistachios you can get your hands on, ground into a pistachio meal, and baked into the perfect little bite. I include the recipe down below and I'm hard-pressed to think of a better way to wrap up a three-week trip. Thank you Mona!

a pile of pistachio nuts
Above you see the pistachios as they were purchased. Below you can see them starting to get ground down into a meal. The pistachios take the place of flour in many other cookie recipes, and here it results in a rich, flavorful biscotti.

a pile of pistachio nuts

Related links:

  • Update! If you’re in the Hudson Valley, visit Mona at Talbott & Arding
  • If you're interested in having lunch at the academy, or if you just want to be more involved, there is a way to do it. Friends of the AAR have the ability to enjoy lunch at the American Academy in Rome with up to ten guests, by reservation. You also get the e-newsletter, and invitations to select AAR events. If you spend more time in Rome, or live there, some of the other options might appeal to you as well.
  • American Academy in Rome on Instagram & their Facebook page.
  • Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of The American Academy in Rome, The Rome Sustainable Food Project.
  • Mona was featured in Coco: 10 World-Leading Masters Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs

small balls of cookie dough arranged on a parchment-lined baking sheet
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Sicilian Pistachio Cookies (Biscotti al Pistacchio)

5 from 5 votes

If you have access to beautiful Sicilian pistachios, definitely use them. They’re wonderful. That said, I know 500g of any type of pistachios can be spendy. If you’re running low on pistachios, swap in almond meal. I should also note, the first time I baked these I only had salted / lightly toasted pistachios on hand. Don't worry if you're in the same boat, the cookies are still delicious, but taste a bit more hearty and rustic. If you use raw, skinless pistachios you end up with an extra-vibrant green cookie underneath the powdered coating. Lastly, I like to make a portion of my cookies extra tiny. For itty-bitty cookies, form not much more than a teaspoon of dough (1/4 oz / 6-8 g) into balls. Scale back the baking time to 8 - 10 minutes.

  • 4 1/3 cups / 500 g raw pistachios
  • 1 cup / 200 g granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • scant 1/2 cup egg whites / 3 1/2 oz - from 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar, for coating cookies
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.
  2. Pulse the pistachios in a food processor with 1/2 cup / 100 g of the granulated sugar until the nuts are finely chopped. I tend to pulse the nuts until they're the texture of chunky, gravelly sand / lightly pebbled. A bit rustic. You can go finer if you like, but be mindful and avoid turning it into pistachio butter.
  3. Combine the ground pistachio-sugar mixture with the honey, vanilla, and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Slowly add the egg white, mixing until the dough is well combined and soft. At this point, add the rest of the granulated sugar and mix gently.
  4. Form the dough into small balls, about 1 tablespoon each. Roll them in the confectioners' sugar to coat well. Transfer the balls to cookies sheets lined with parchment paper, leaving at least an inch between each cookie.
  5. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the edges of each cookie are golden. Transfer to a cooling rack. These cookies can be stores in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 50 cookies.

Adapted from the Biscotti al Pistacchio recipe in Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of The American Academy in Rome, The Rome Sustainable Food Project.

Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
25 mins
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Recipe Rating


another winner, heidi. we are devoted to your triple ginger cookies and now these are coming in as a family favorite, too.. i loved preparing it all in the food processor. the kitchen smelled heavenly. thank you!


    Love hearing it Jude!

    Heidi Swanson

Can the lemon zest be left out?


    You could certainly play around with that component. You could leave it out, or experiment with another citrus zest like orange or makrut lime.

    Heidi Swanson

Has anyone tried making this with an egg white sub like aqua faba or something else?

Kim Carlyle

    Hi Kim - I haven't tried it, but if anyone does, please leave a comment.

    Heidi Swanson

mille grazie for this recipe...they were the perfect treat for my gluten-intolerant Mom-in-law. I made a batch with pistachios, and then another with hazelnuts. Tutti e due erano delizioso!!


I made these this weekend with friends. Very lovely. The tiny cookies are perfect because of their richness. Will be making again, but next time, I'll cut back on the lemon zest.

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks

Made these today and they were ridiculously easy to make and turned out prefect! The only pain was the $20 worth of pistachios I bought but everything else I already had on hand so the $20 really isn't that bad. Do you think you could make these with almonds? or pecans? I know the taste would change but I wonder if that would be a good substitute. Thanks for another great recipe!


These were dangerously delicious and absolutely SIMPLE to make!!


Hi Heidi, I made these today after reading your blog and decided to blog about them on my own site. They turned out wonderfully. I made the itty bitty version and found I still had to bake them for 15-18 minutes for them to cook all the way. Great recipe though - super easy. And I will be going to the Innocenti biscotti place you mentioned on another post on our trip to Rome in a few weeks too!


Oooh I love pistachios- this looks like a yummy cookie. Thanks for sharing yet another inspiring recipe.

The Bounty Hunter

Mmmm :) soo good! My husband loved them so much he finally stopped hitting me! :)


Saw the recipe, had to make it. Pistachios being $14 per pound, that's the only down side to this recipe. Everyone tries to guess what's in the cookie, and I haven't had a person not fall in love with it yet. Also did Chocolate Puddle recipe for a work event, they literally flew off the table. Still plan on trying the savory/sweet olive biscuits.....enjoy your blog and your food sensibilities.


These gorgeous little biscotti have just come out of the oven and they smell divine. I can't wait to dig in! Thinking I'll have one with a bowl of chocolate gelato after dinner... very naughty!


One of the many (many, many) things I love about Italian cooking and food is the frequent use of pistachios. They add such interesting and unique flavor that I always want to come back for more.

Anna @ FrugalGal.or

Ooh these do look amazing! They would make such a great holiday treat.

Caitlin @ Amuse-bouche

I love anything pistachio! I can't wait to make these. Thanks for sharing!


Sometimes I wish I had your life, but heck, mostly I wish I had mine. I agree with the "anything pistachio". and these sound great. I'm into ice cream myself, and yesterday I had a daydream about a bag of pistachios and my maker (ice cream, that is). I have a friend who did a stint at the AAR, and he is a foodie based strictly on his own simple desires, and an Italophile of the first order. His memories of the food there must be pre-sustainability project, but it all makes me want to get to ROMA!


It is so nice of you to tell us about your travels. I love to hear about all the fun you had and what you have learned. I also, like the new recipes that you share with us. This is always a nice place to visit.


I am all over pistachio anything, much less biscotti. Thanks for a great idea!!!

Rocky Mountain Woman

Thank you Heidi for mentioning of this great little book, bought it over the weekend and cant wait to start experimenting, love the short stories too.....happy cooking


Heidi, I only saw this post today, since I was in Torino all week long for Slow Food's Salone del Gusto. Thank you so much for promoting the Academy, the RSFP and the Friends of the Academy. I hope to see you soon. FYI: I made a big batch of the Hazelnut Butter Cookies, and they were fantastic!

Elizabeth Minchilli

Absolutely delicious! I only had salted pistachios at home, but the contrast with the slightly caramelised sugar coating was well worth the time spent shelling the pistachios! Thank you for sharing.


Thanks for bringing back fond memories of visiting with a friend @ American Academy in the mid 70's... I was there between xmas & New Year's so got to have dinner there xmas eve & party on New Year's eve (people were throwing glasses off the roof!). I had my first real tortellini in brodo there and have loved it ever since. At the time, I was impressed with how much better the food was there than @ my home university (where my parents "tasted" food in the cafeteria & immediately bought be my own mini frig!)... these cookies look great. They look like a pistachio version of an amaretti.


I am pretty sure if I made these for my momma, I could get in the lead as favourite child. Beautiful!

Meghan (Making Love In The Kitchen)

I made these as well and they were divine, I couldn't stop eating them. They were deliciously chewing and looked great. I used pure icing sugar to coat them so they were still white and crackly in appearance (the icing sugar didn't melt away). I also just mixed the egg white, honey, sugar, vanilla and lemon rind together first and then added the pistacio/sugar mixture to that - it seemed easier and it worked.


ohh...i loooove pistachios. this looks amazing.


I made them!! And they are very tasty. I reduced the sugar just a bit because I like things to be less sweet. Only problem I had is that the powdered sugar all melted into the cookies while they baked and when they came out they looked like little meatballs. Not the prettiest but they taste great, with just that hint of lemon zest, like a macaroon only better.


How many lemons will it take to produce 1-1/2 tablespoons of the zest? Thank you.

New Cook

Welcome back Heidi! The cookies look really yummy! Love all the photos and links in your post...Thanks


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