Molise is the newest region located in Southern Italy. The second smallest of Italy’s twenty regions, Molise was established in 1963 when the region Abruzzi e Molise was split in two. It became effective only in 1970. Within the region, there are two ethnic minorities: the Molisan Croats (5,000 people who speak an old Dalmatian dialect of the Croatian language) and the Molisan Albanians (who speak a divergent variety of Albanian, Arbëresh, very different from the Albanian spoken on the other side of the Adriatic Sea).
The traditional cuisine of these regions has been shaped by the natural settings of mountains and sea. A specialty of this mountainous area, home of shepherds, is natural lamb prepared in a variety of ways: roasted, fried or cooked alla cacciatora (the hunter’s way) with red peppers. Pecorino made from sheep’s milk is the most common cheese, and the best durum wheat pasta in Italy comes from the Campobasso region. Fish is also prominent in the traditional cuisine, as some of the best fishermen of Italy live along the region’s Adriatic Coast. Appropriately, St Francis Caracciolo—recently proclaimed the Saint Protector of Cooks—is from Villa Santa Maria (Chieti), a town that since the 1500s continues to produce world-renowned chefs.
Molise is a pristine region with a peasant cuisine founded on the timeless Mediterranean duet of wheat and vegetables. Chili and garlic lace nearly every dish, as does Molise’s golden olive oil. Wild and cultivated herbs like fennel and rosemary lend a deep fragrance to roasted rabbit, suckling pig, lamb. Seafood from the short stretch of the Molisano coastline is often cooked into hearty soups and served atop toasted garlic-rubbed bread.
Tasty and spicy salamis, top quality cheeses, elaborate dishes using goat and lamb meats, and homemade pasta dishes with rich sauces, all somewhat spicy and flavorsome are important characteristics of the Molise cuisine. Vegetables which grow in abundance in this land are cooked in many different ways, but always with great care.