Friday, February 6, 2009


To continue our tour of the less-visited regions of the south, we next go to Molise (#14 on the map) the smallest of the Italian regions, about half the size of Rhode Island.

Molise is mostly mountains, with high plains and valleys that go down to the sea. An agrarian world, farmers have grown grapes, olives and tended sheep in Molise for centuries. It has well-preserved churches, is famous for making bells, has many ancient ruins, and some of ther most natural settings in Italy.

The villages of Venafro, and Isernia, are medieval delights. Campobasso is known for creating knives, and Termoli is a lively and colorful seaside port.

The small region presents a captivating sense of ancient architecture, with castles, churches, and winding streets in the villages.

Molise cuisine:

Similar to its neighbors of Abruzzo and Puglia, Molise features seafood with local vegetables, cheeses, sausages and their own pastas, especially crejoli, similar to maccheroni all chitarra. But their signature pasta dish is a rustic spaghetti, with as many variations as there are Molise cooks. Here is one:

Rustic spaghetti:

for the sauce:

two garlic cloves, peeled and minced
one-half ounce mushrooms, diced
one-half cup chicken broth
one-half cup extra virgin olive oil
one cup chopped onions
one cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in olive oil; drained and chopped
three teaspoons tomato paste
pinch of red pepper flakes
one-quarter cup red wine
one-quarter cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper
one-half cup grated pecorino

for the pasta:

one pound semolina spaghetti

In a bowl, soak the mushrooms in the chicken broth for ten minutes. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic. Thirty seconds later add the onions. Cook for three minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, the tomato paste, the mushroom mixture, a pinch of red pepper flakes, the wine, a few twists of the pepper mill, a half teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer for ten minutes.

In a pot with four quarts boiling water, add a tablespoon of salt, and then the spaghetti. Cook until al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water. Drain.

Add the spaghetti to the heated sauce. Stir, adding enough reserved water to keep moist. Add the parsely and cheese. Stir. Taste for salt and serve.

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