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 Filed as : Regional Spotlight

Life with Wine: Italy

Nov 7, 2012
Life with Wine: Italy
Discover the Indigenous Wines of Sicily

francesca_planeta_2Sixteen years ago, Francesca Planeta returned home to Sambuca di Sicilia from her first international sales trip with pockets full of orders for Planeta Chardonnay only to find that her father Diego was investing heavily in a Noto property where he planned to grow the grape nero d’Avola. “He’s crazy!” she thought. In the mid-1990’s, few outside Sicily had heard of nero d’Avola and indigenous varietals were not yet chic. But Diego Planeta was a visionary who understood that the future of Sicilian winemaking lay in its past. His plan was first to invite wine lovers to discover the potential for quality wines in Sicily through varieties they knew, then introduce them to tastes unique to the island. After Noto, he purchased vineyard estates in Vittoria and Etna and built an independent winemaking facility in each location to ensure the freshness of the grapes.

Diego’s passion for acquainting the world with the fusion of minerals and citrus in Planeta’s Etna Carricante and the bright strawberry and volcanic aromas of their Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG opened the door for wine lovers throughout the globe to discover other smaller outstanding Sicilian producers such as Arianna Occhipinti and Benanti. For those who ache to discover the sites, smells and tastes of Sicily on their own, Planeta opened La Foresteria, a 14-room hotel set among vineyards and olive trees near their winery in Menfi and the white sand beaches of Porto Paolo. Planeta will also arrange wines and wine tastings in homes represented by Think Sicily, the award-winning villa-rental company based in London.

Francesca’s favorite wine in her family’s portfolio is the Santa Cecilia Nero d’Avola, not only because nero d’Avola is the most important Sicilian varietal and Noto the region where it reaches its fullest expression, but also because it was the most challenging wine to launch. Santa Cecilia was the first wine Planeta made outside their home region and the first from an indigenous grape. The wine’s ample fruit and high acidity matches well with game, meat or tomato sauces, spicy foods and oily fish. The following recipe comes from the kitchen of the Think Sicily property Don Arcangelo all’Olmo, a historic family estate nestled among the citrus groves between the Ionian Sea and Mt. Etna.

Penne with Cherry Tomatoes and Pesto

Serves: 6-8

Preparation time: 60 minutes

2 1/2 lb Cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 1/2 lb Penne pasta
1/2 Medium white onion, grated
1 clove Garlic, grated
4 cups Fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
1/3 cup Pine nuts
1/2 tsp Black pepper, ground
1/2 tsp Red (chili) pepper flakes
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 cup Olive oil
1 cup Parmesan, grated
1/4 cup Pecorino, grated
1/4 cup Almonds, toasted and crushed

Place the quartered cherry tomatoes in a large mixing bowl. Grate the onion and garlic over the tomatoes and gently toss. To make the pesto, quickly soak the basil leaves in cool water and pat dry with a paper towel. In the bowl of the food processor with a sharp metal blade, combine the basil, pine nuts, black pepper, red pepper and salt along with half a cup of olive oil and half a cup of grated Parmesan. Pulse the mixture for 3 seconds at a time to avoid the leaves blackening. Scrape the edges of the bowl with a wooden spoon. Add half remaining olive oil, pulse and repeat until you achieve a uniform creamy consistency. Pour the pesto over the tomato mixture. Add the remaining cheese. Gently toss and let stand for at least 30 minutes.

Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the penne. When the pasta is al dente, drain it with a colander. Place half the pesto in the bottom of a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the pasta and gently toss. Add the rest of the pesto to the pot and once again, gently toss. Remove the pan from the heat. Spoon the pasta onto a large shallow platter. Garnish with basil leaves and crushed almonds. Serve warm.


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