Rarely traveled or even spoken about by the American tourist, Molise is nothing less than any of its more glamorous neighbors and harbors some very distinct and tasty food. There are no five-star hotels in Molise, and virtually no restaurants in the super elegant category, but several that I have found to be honest, delicious and excellent representatives of local, tasty cooking, and all in or near the capital as that is all I have really traveled.
Molise is the central roadway of the transumanza, the centuries old migration of people and their cattle and sheep herds. At the end of the summer shepherds would take their animals from the cool high plains of what is now called Abruzzo down to the warmer flat lands near the coast on there way to what is now Foggia, in northern Puglia. They traveled along wide road like paths called tratturi, many of which are still visible and even used in modern times.
In the capital of Campobasso there is a tiny 30 seat trattoria called da Tonino (corso vittorio emmanuele II, 8…tel 0874 4152000) that serves rigorously authentic cucina molisana, including a delicious involtino of baccala, a simple and satisfying plate of ziti in a white ragu with mushrooms, a succulent stuffed rolled rabbit with sausage and beans and a dessert of spumoni with pignoli and honey. Fairly priced in both the food and the wine departments, this is a place for the one visit traveler. About a 10 minute walk from da Tonino is a place that pretty much captures the entire town and its environs without being the best of anything, called Lupacchioli (piazza gabriele gepe, 27… tel 0874 91349) It is simply the caffe society center of town, a place you would have to go for at least an aperetivo before a big dinner.
Still downtown Campobasso, there is another place called Miseria e Nobilta (viale del Castello,16…tel 087494268) that is run by some young turks who understand the value of the great local food and kind of twist it a little bit. They have searched out the most interesting local salumi and serve it simple and unadorned. I had a stuffed pasta filled with almonds and squash blossoms that was killer and then a lamb belly with eggs and cacio that was unique to me in this world, an exquisite surprise. Finishing with a torta caprese with white chocolate, which I normally despise, and I walked out into the Campobasso evening a wise and happy clam.
About 12 kilometers outside of Campobasso, in the berglette of Vinchiaturos a place called the baptismal fountain, La Fonte Battesimale (piazza municipio, 30… tel. 087434700). The subterranean setting creates a kind of beauty specific to the locale and the food is pure classic southern poverty cooking, except for the local black truffles, which can find their way into many dishes, the best of which was a spicy salami, studded with and drifted over by fragrant black truffle shavings. The sweet roasted peppers stuffed with breadcrumbs, sheep’s milk cheese and hot peppers were from a dream I once had after watching Fellini movies for two days and the lamb roast with tiny potatoes and more of the same hot little peppers was a dream with local biferno rosso wine. Up the stairs and into the evening sky it was all about love.