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The second smallest region in Italy, a little industrialised and therefore largely untamed: Molise has always been regarded as a marginal territory that has struggled to find its own identity sandwiched between the more notorious regions of Abruzzo, Puglia, Campania and Lazio.
This has, however, allowed Molise to retain some decidedly peculiar culinary traditions, as well as maintaining its authenticity when it comes to raw materials, recipes, and welcoming guests – this makes Molise a tiny country with plenty of interest from a culinary point of view.
We selected 10 typical products of Molise tro try in this curious land between the sea and mountains.
10 Typical Food Products to Try from Molise
1. Composta Molisana
This fruit and vegetable conserve is made with pears, grapes, tomatoes, onions, peppers and carrots, put in earthenware jars and left to marinate for at least a month. The curious mix of fruit and vegetables is so appreciated in the region it even has its own dedicated festival.
Not to be confused with porchetta, pampanella is probably the most popular street food in Molise, consisting of marinated pork meat with sweet or spicy red pepper, garlic, salt and vinegar, it's cooked in the oven and served in a bun. The name comes from the vine leaves in which the meat is wrapped before cooking. Pampanella can be found at many food festivals, but the original is only found in the village of San Martino.
3. Caciocavallo di Agnone
Whilst this cheese is not exclusive to Molise, that of Agnone is particularly renowned. Made with 100% cow's milk, it is formed in the classic pear shape, with a weight of up to 3 kg and a nocciolata crust. Try the aged cheese (up to three years), which has extraordinary spicy notes.
In a region where sheep farming has always been of great socio-economic importance, it is only appropriate that one of the most popular dishes is made with mutton. The "pezzata" is made from boiled mutton – traditionally cooked in a copper container – along with potatoes, vegetables and spices. It requires long slow cooking to tenderise the meat, which also has a very intense flavour.
A simple dish for brave palettes, torcinelli was created to use up all the normally discarded lamb scraps. Liver, tripe and intestines are cleaned and placed in the animal's gut. The torcinelli are cooked on the grill, but there are those who prefer them cooked in a stew. It's also found in the nearby region of Puglia.
6. Baccala Arracanto
If you ask a Molise what to try in their country, they will undboubtedly answer "baccala arracanato". The cod fish is cooked in a pan placed inside the fireplace, covered with ashes and then seasoned with breadcrumbs, pine nuts and walnuts, raisins, olives and cherry tomatoes. Those without a fireplace can of course substitute with an oven, but even so, the arracanatura (gratin) will not turn out quite the same.
Leavened batter, fried and served with plenty of sugar: in appearance the scarpelle are the typical dessert of holidays in Molise, similar to other fried delicacies found in Southern Italy. However, the curious twisted shape that defines them is a masterpiece of manual craftsmanship and one that hopefully won't be lost to new generations.
8. Signora di Conca Casale
The Signora di Conca Casale is the only typical product of the Slow Food Presidium in Molise. The name comes from a tiny village of about 200 inhabitants where the tradition of sausage making is carefully guarded by a group of elderly producers. It is called "Signora (lady)" because it was once destined for gentlemen, the richest in the territory, and prepared using the best part of the pork: the loin, shoulder, belly and back fat, all flavoured with spices and fennel in particular.
This unusual fruit is a variety of melon that resembles a cucumber in shape, colour and flavour, and is used as a vegetable, usually in salads, without removing the skin. However, unlike cucumber, it's extremely digestible.
Using legumes in desserts and cakes is a common tradition in Southern Italy. The cauciuni are ravioli, prepared both for Christmas and for Carnival, and are filled with a stuffing of chickpeas, cocoa, spices (almost always cloves and cinnamon), liqueur and candied fruit. They are fried and served covered with honey.