Campobasso, Isernia and their provinces
The Molise region corresponds to the towns of Campobasso and Isernia and their provinces. The land of Molise is, therefore, only a small sized tile in the mosaic of our peninsula. But the limited dimensions of this territory has consented to the people of this region to remain very much tied to its traditional customs and uses. In the same way, the bond with the Abruzzi region which has only recently loosened somewhat, has determined in itself a tenacious pride of one’s own identity capable of surviving the homogenisation of customs and consumer products. The dual carriageways which have been opened and industrialisation in general have not stopped the Molise people from living and eating just like their ancestors: micro-wave ovens and gas cookers exist happily alongside the recipes of long gone centuries, and it matters little that the cheese-makers use plastic containers for holding the curd rather than the traditional wicker baskets. The flavours, the aromas and the fragrances remain just what they used to be.
The territory is fertile and cultivated and produces cereals, wine, fruit and vegetables.
The cuisine is dominated by the flavours linked to the many aromatic herbs used for enriching an alimentation which is mainly poor, but also because its pastureland is full of them and the animals reared there – above all cattle – produce meat and milk which are particularly flavoursome.
Exquisite and spicy salamis, top quality cheeses, elaborate dishes using kid meat, substantial homemade pasta dishes with rich sauces, the pasta being made both with and without egg, all somewhat spicy and flavoursome: such are the protagonists of the Molise table. And then chickens, rabbits, geese and ducks, pleasant tasting and worth getting to know and appreciating.
The vegetables which grow in abundance in this land, and which are a characterising element of the cuisine, compared to that of Abruzzi, are cooked in many different ways, always with great care and are often the motive for flavoursome disputes between various towns, in a contest for supremacy.
Certainly, in general, this land distinguishes itself in the ability of its inhabitants to «to split the hair», as is often said: that is, to be able to value all that there is at their disposal without wasting anything.
An old recipe explains how to make an excellent «nettle soup», as follows: the ingredients are: six hundred grams of nettle stalks, two hundred grams of fresh tomatoes, fifty grams of pancetta (Italian spiced bacon), olive oil, onion and salt. With a pair of working or rubber gloves, pick the nettles, remove the leaves from the stalks and keep them to use as a pasta filling or for a delicious omelette, then remove the strings sticking to the stalks. Weigh the stalks, wash them and then break them up. Sauté the finely chopped pancetta and the sliced onion in oil; as soon as they are golden, add the pieces of tomato and, after about ten minutes, add the nettle stalks. Season with salt, stir, cover and cook, adding if necessary a little hot salted water. Serve on slices of stale or toasted bread.
This land also boasts of richer vegetable dishes such as, for example, that of the peeled sweet peppers stuffed with a filling composed of breadcrumbs, anchovies, parsley, basil and chilli pepper, all sautéed in a frying pan and cooked with chopped up tomatoes.
Not forgetting, of course, the meat dishes which are in prevalence made with lamb and other farmyard animals, cooked in the saucepan or spit roasted. Two old recipes give indications for two exquisite dishes made with lamb which are characteristic of this cuisine:
One is for «lamb with olives» and the other is for «lamb Molise style».
The ingredients for the first are as follows: six hundred grams of suckling lamb (in slices), one hundred grams of black olives, fifty grams of olive oil, a little white flour, oregano, hot chilli pepper, half a lemon and salt. For the preparation, the procedure is as follows: flour the meat. Put the oil and the slices of lamb into a saucepan; put over a high heat and fry, stirring. Stone the olives and chop them finely. Lower the heat and sprinkle the finely chopped olives over the slices of lamb along with a pinch of oregano and a small piece of finely chopped chilli pepper. Wet with the juice of the lemon and leave for a few more minutes to cook over the heat.
The second, indicated for ten persons since this is a dish for important meals, requires the following ingredients: two kilos of lamb, two hundred grams of prosciutto cured ham, dry white wine, one tablespoon of lard, a cup of broth/stock, one onion, white flour, nutmeg, three eggs, half a lemon, salt and pepper. Put a large saucepan over heat with the lard, the chopped up prosciutto and the thinly sliced onion. Sauté, season with salt and pepper and add a pinch of nutmeg. Cut the lamb into small pieces and, after having floured it, fry it in the sautéed mixture so that it browns. Wet with the broth and as soon as the liquid has boiled down, add half a litre of white wine. Season with salt and pepper and cook over a moderate heat. Once the lamb is well cooked, arrange it on a hot serving plate. Add to its cooking juices three egg yolks beaten together with the juice of half the lemon; stir and keep over low heat for one minute, then pour the sauce over the meat.
The trout fished in the Biferno river are notable for their good flavour, and are cooked with a simple but tasty sauce of aromatic herbs.
«Pamparella» is also decidedly original, being pork pancetta which has been dried with a significant quantity of chilli pepper and then soaked in wine and cut into small pieces; this is used to give flavour to any kind of sauce, in particular the one used for dressing the «tacconi», a rustic pasta made with flour and water.
Along the coast, there are, of course, fish dishes, and amongst the more particular ones the «red mullet soup», and the «spaghetti with cuttlefish».
The cheeses produced in Molise are pecorino, ricotta, caciocavallo, «juncata», a soft and creamy cheese which, in some towns of Molise, it is a devotional food which is eaten in particular on an empty stomach on the morning of Ascension day; this cheese is also considered to be a propitiatory food to be offered to family and friends.
But as far as cheeses are concerned, this land does not really boast great differences in respect of the production in Abruzzi; it can, however, boast of a particular quality, as in the case of the mozzarella from Bojano, a village situated at the sources of the Biferno river, where an exquisite fior di latte (incorrectly called ‘mozzarella’) is produced and which is offered as an antipasto.
The search for the best sausages and salamis inevitably takes one to the Upper Molise area where the tradition of the most classic pork butchers is still maintained. The soppressata has the greatest reputation, above all from Castel del Giudice, Capracotta and Agnone, where it is also possible to find an excellent smoked prosciutto. At Montenero di Bisaccia, a ventricina salami is produced which is similar to the one from Abruzzi and is certainly not less spicy. At Sessano, special pork liver sausages are produced, «frascateglie» in the local dialect, which are similar to the mazzafegati and the fegatazzi of the bordering regions. They are most widely eaten accompanied by polenta. It is also worth mentioning the «mulette», a kind of capocollo or coppa (types of ham) which is characterised by the absence of pepper generously, however, substituted by chilli pepper; and so also the «sanguinati» are rather particular, made with solidified pigs’ blood cut into small pieces and cooked in salted water then mixed with white breadcrumbs, orange peel, sultanas, parsley, chilli pepper and garlic.
The category of cakes and desserts is particularly influenced by the most ancient traditions which are linked to the history of the territory and to the religious and family recurrences; or it presents traces of the influence exercised on it by the peoples which have, over the centuries, inhabited this land. An example of this is given by the «calzoni» (known as «cauciuni») which are filled with a mixture with a chick pea base, a custom very probably derived from dishes from the far off Middle East; sometimes, sweet chestnuts are used for the filling, having a similar flavour. The «calzoni» can be found all-over, with different preparations from place to place, just as they are devotional foods for the celebration of different festivities.