`Planeta's Cooking Secrets

Food & Cooking

Planeta's Cooking Secrets

Dec. 15, 2014
Luciana Squadrilli

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Read­ing the labels of their wine and olive oil bot­tles, one might think Plan­eta is an invented brand name refer­ring to the uni­verse of estates and prod­ucts the Sicil­ian com­pany has been run­ning and cre­at­ing over the last 20 years. Instead, this is the real sur­name of the fam­ily whose head of the house­hold cur­rently is Diego Plan­eta.

After being one of the lead­ing fig­ures of the Sicil­ian wine’s renais­sance work­ing for other winer­ies, Diego — born to a wealthy, gen­try fam­ily who always had coun­try estates but never thought about mak­ing a liv­ing from them — set up his own com­pany in 1995 together with his son Alessio and daugh­ter Francesca, who now lead the com­pany together.

They started with the old­est estate of Ulmo, in Sam­buca di Sicilia, and today Plan­eta Win­ery counts 6 dif­fer­ent estates in every cor­ner of the island, with an over­all spread of 363 hectares of vine­yards, as well as in Menfi, Vit­to­ria, Noto, Cas­tiglione di Sicilia and Capo Milazzo, and 98 hectares of olive groves in the Cap­par­rina , near Men­fi’s beaches.

Planeta’s olive groves in Capparrina, Italy

Plan­e­ta’s extra vir­gin olive oils from Val di Mazara PDO are obtained from tra­di­tional and depit­ted Nocel­lara del Belice, Cera­suola and Bian­co­l­illa olives, and they are as good as the fam­i­ly’s renowned wines.

This only par­tially explains the rea­son why SICILIA, the Cook­ing of the Plan­eta fam­ily” is not an aver­age recipe book. The recently launched vol­ume is not only a cook­book, but, as it is writ­ten in the press notes, a cook­ery tale about a fam­ily and a land, Sicily, which is com­posed of dif­fer­ent ter­ri­to­ries. It is a travel made of cook­ing through a land which is the result of sev­eral cul­tural lay­ers, cook­ery details and knowl­edge that are nat­u­rally accom­plished in cook­ing”.


SICILIA: Planeta Family Cooking

Francesca Plan­eta her­self explains that she strongly wanted this book; it was orig­i­nally intended as a col­lec­tion of the cook­ing classes held at La Foreste­ria Plan­eta, a lux­ury resort where chef Angelo Pumilia runs the restau­rant and cook­ing courses in tra­di­tional Sicil­ian cui­sine.

When, how­ever, she asked food writer and food expert Elisia Men­duni to help her col­lect and write the ancient recipes of her fam­ily, the project took a dif­fer­ent, unex­pected direc­tion.

Each mem­ber of the fam­ily jeal­ously kept them from one another, imag­ine from strangers. Men­duni had to some­how obtain and adapt the recipes from this tight-lipped group and win them over.

Men­duni cooked along with Diego Plan­eta and his sis­ters Car­olina, Anna­maria and Marina; thanks to her skill­full cook­ing, not only she passed the test, but she became a mem­ber of the Plan­eta fam­ily.

Fam­ily cook­ing as well as street food were the start­ing points of the book. In a one-year long job, Men­duni and pho­tog­ra­pher Adri­ano Brusa­ferri trav­eled along the fam­ily estates, cooked with them and with chef Pumilia, met the local pro­duc­ers and tasted prod­ucts.

The huge amount of col­lected mate­r­ial then became a com­plete book of 285 pages in dual lan­guage Ital­ian and Eng­lish, and it will con­tinue to feed the ded­i­cated blog (in Ital­ian) where a lot more con­tent will posted, because, as the authors note writ­ten recipes define a culi­nary code, dis­play a dish in quan­ti­ties, rules, ges­tures and tech­niques. Yet cook­ing is also made of never-end­ing rev­o­lu­tions thanks to changes, per­son­al­iza­tion, ver­sions, adap­ta­tions and adjust­ments.”

The book is a real com­pendium of the tra­di­tional Sicil­ian cui­sine, includ­ing land and seafood, peas­ant and noble food such as the famous tim­bales.

The house’s wines and oils, too, have a promi­nent role in the book, as each recipe comes with the ideal matches to one or more Plan­e­ta’s prod­ucts. While wine pair­ings are selected by jour­nal­ist and wine taster Fil­ippo Bar­tolotta, olive oil were cho­sen by Men­duni:

I was lucky enough to have the three dif­fer­ent Plan­eta extra vir­gin olive oils, the two depit­ted mono­va­ri­etal oils from Bian­co­l­illa and Nocel­lara del Belice olives, and the Tra­di­tional blend also fea­tur­ing Cera­suola. Each of them has its own dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter and they can cover the whole Sicil­ian gus­ta­tive world. Bian­co­l­illa has del­i­cacy as its main fea­ture and it’s ideal with raw, del­i­cate food. Nocel­lara gives a more intense oil to go with rich fla­vors, while the robust Tra­di­tional Blend is a per­fect expres­sion of the Sicil­ian soul” with its beau­ti­ful notes of tomato skin and arti­chokes, and I chose it for the most tra­di­tional dishes.”

Among the recipes where extra vir­gin plays a key-role were the canazzo — a kind of rata­touille” made of raw and cooked veg­eta­bles where extra vir­gin main­tains the har­mony between the dif­fer­ent fla­vors; and the olive oil potato mash, a favorite at the Foreste­ria, where the pota­toes are only mixed with water and extra vir­gin olive oil.

The food writer under­lines that extra vir­gin olive oil was used for all the fried recipes with the only excep­tion of the famous arancine (rice balls), and she reveals one of the secrets of the Plan­e­ta’s cook­ery: they often add one or two spoons of the oil used for fry­ing the food to the final recipe. This may seem odd.” Men­duni said, but I have to say it really works, because the fry­ing oil gives the dish a glut­to­nous cooked note that adds round­ness to the final taste instead of the usual fresh­ness of raw oil, such as in the spaghetti with fried cour­gettes and fresh mint leaves.” (Rec­om­mended only when you use a very good extra vir­gin and pay atten­tion to fry­ing tem­per­a­tures.)

The com­pa­ny’s har­vest was a luck­ier one com­pared to other Ital­ian pro­duc­ers this sea­son, thanks to the ideal loca­tion of the olive grove where olive flies arrived but did­n’t bred. After a stan­dard win­ter, we had very few rain show­ers in late spring until the har­vest­ing time,” Alessio Plan­eta noted, and this caused the soil to be quite dry. A cool sum­mer favored the dif­fu­sion of insects respon­si­ble for the fruits’ drop. We had few olives, but of aver­age qual­ity for a har­vest that will be remem­bered as one of the scant­i­est, ever. Oil out­put, how­ever, was higher than last year’s.”

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