many caciocavallo cheeses being hung in a room by strings
Home » Italian Regions » Molise » Traditional Food of Molise – Dishes You Must Try During Your Visit

Traditional Food of Molise – Dishes You Must Try During Your Visit

Last updated on June 19th, 2024

What if I told you there was a region of Italy that was literally untouched by Italian travelers and international tourists? And what if it was also nestled between beautiful mountains and empty beaches – and was just waiting to be discovered by you?

This place does exist: Molise. Not only is this a secret to most of the world, but also a culinary mine, full of undiscovered food and recipes that are just waiting to be unearthed. 

Sometimes such uncharted territory can be hard to navigate because it’s not in your everyday guidebook or go to resources for knowledge but fret not. Here I will cover all the traditional food of Molise you won’t want to miss on your trip. 

I will provide our best tips for eating like a local and how to bring those traditions back home with you. Jump into the real, raw Italian country life and eat your way through some of the most beautiful territory Italy has to offer!

a beach with green and striped umbrellas covering it with sea in background from birds eye view
Termoli beaches in Molise are perfect for packing a picnic

Food from Molise vs Italian Food

Molise isn’t well known for much in Italy, being somewhat overshadowed by its neighboring regions of Lazio, Abruzzo, Puglia and Campania.

Actually, it is kind of a joke among Italians as it is considered a bit of a “non-existent” region that nobody knows anything about. But if you take a close look, especially from a culinary point of view, Molise is as rich as any other region in Italy. 

The region is Italy’s youngest, gaining independence from Abruzzo in 1963. It has struggled to find its identity throughout the years, yet despite this it has many established culinary traditions. Like much of central Italy, Molisani cuisine is rooted in strong farm, pastoral and fishing traditions. 

The food is considered to be from the cucina povera, the poor man’s food. Simple ingredients are dressed up, and used to create hearty, comforting meals. Not one scrap of food goes to waste here and the pasta is made simply but it is some of the best in the country. 

Lamb and goat are used in abundance (as opposed to chicken and beef, which are more common in other regions). You will see them grazing throughout the countryside alongside lucious vegetable and legume crops. 

Homemade pasta is a huge staple. Molise produces some of the best durum wheat and thus, some of the best pasta. Some of Italy’s most beloved pasta shapes originate from Molise, along with Molisana, one of Italy’s top pasta manufacturers.

Pasta From Molisana

handmade fusilli close up

One thing you can be sure to see a lot of in Molise is handmade pasta made from only two ingredients: water and semolina flour. Let’s meet some of the most beloved pasta shapes from Molise.

  1. Fusilli: thin strips of pasta dough are wound around a fuso or small spindle to create the corkscrew pasta shape.
    • We Recommend: Fusilli con ragù di agnello – with lamb sauce
  2. Crioli: a long, thin pasta similar to spaghetti but square in shape instead of circular. 
  3. Cavatelli: meaning “little hollows”, they are small twisted shell shaped.
    • We Recommend: Cavatelli con cime di rape – with broccolini
  4. Sagne: handmade pasta sheets cut into odd shapes or shaped and dried.
    • We Recommend: ‘sagne ‘ncannulate’ made from sagne cut into ribbons and wrapped around a fuso to create a shape not unlike fusilli but with a flat edge. It comes with tomato sauce or lamb ragù.
  5. Cappellacci: resembling small hats stuffed with cheese and various herbs, this pasta is actually from Emilia-Romagna but deserves an honorable mention as they are a staple for many in Molise.
  6. Millefanti: a pasta originally from Puglia and not made with your typical semolina and water dough but holds significant weight for the Molisani. Eggs, cheese and parsley are added to the dough which is then formed into rough little pasta dumplings. They are then finished in a homemade meat broth.  
homemade cavatelli on a wooden cutting board
Homemade cavatelli pasta

Scattone

(Pronounced scaht-toh-neh in Italian)

This is how you typically start a meal in Molise as legion has it “it will open up your stomach”. You might not see this in the capital but it’s common in rural towns and villages. A ladleful of fresh pasta and its starchy water is mixed with red wine and a bit of chili pepper. 

Tip: Torella del Sannio is home to the food festival dedicated to scattone in August every year. 

La Signora di Conca Casale

(Pronounced lah sihn-yoh-ruh dee cohn-cah cah-sah-ley in Italian)

This is a must try in Molise! This high-quality salami is made from the first cuts of pork loin, shoulder and lard that are seasoned with chili pepper, black pepper, wild fennel and coriander. It’s shaped like a beehive, rubbed with corn flour, orange and lemon juice, vinegar and wine before curing. 

Soppressata del Molise

(Pronounced sohp-prehs-saw-tah dehl moh-lee-seh in Italian)

This cured meat is made from pork loin, neck and small amounts of lard that are seasoned with various spices (that vary depending on the town) and stuffed into a natural casing. The salami is then pressed under a weight for several days and hung to dry ideally by a fireplace for around five months to give it a smoky aroma. Once it is opened, it must be consumed immediately or it must be preserved in a jar covered with lard. 

Abbuoti 

(Pronounced ahb-boo-oh-tee in Italian)

Lamb liver, sweetbreads and hard-boiled eggs are stuffed into a lamb natural casing and baked.

Capofreddo

(Pronounced cah-poh-frehd-doh in Italian)

Also known as coppa Molisana, this sausage (as big as 11 kilos!) is made from boiled pork organs such as the head, trotters and tongue which are seasoned with bay leaves, fennel seeds, garlic, chili peppers and occasionally orange peel, and then stuffed in a canvas bag and boiled for several hours. The sausage is aged for about two weeks and then enjoyed fresh within a month of aging. 

Learn More: Read all about the Different Types of Italian Sausage.

Torcinelli  

torcinelli on a platter with other cooked meats on either side
Torcinelli on a plate of mixed grilled items from Molise

(Pronounced tohr-chee-nel-lee in Italian)

Just another way to use every last scrap. Lamb liver, tripe and intestines are cleaned, stuffed into a natural casing and grilled. Sometimes they may also be added to stews. 

Ciccioli

close up of ciccioli birds eye view

(Pronounced cheech-choh-lee in Italian)

These fat scraps or pork rinds are a local favorite you will come across in the rural countryside. 

Try It: Get your hands on some pizza coi ciccioli, a focaccia baked with bits of ciccioli. 

Salsiccia di Fegato

(Pronounced sahl-seech-chah dee feh-gah-toh in Italian)

This pork sausage typical of Rionero Sannitico, is made using liver and heart seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, orange peel, bay leaves and, depending on the recipe, chili peppers. The mixture is stuffed into a natural casing and hung to try by a fireplace for 4-5 days, giving it a smoky aroma. It’s then aged for about one month, but it’s also served “fresh” meaning with no aging time, chopped up and preserved in olive oil and lard. 

Ventricina di Montenero di Bisaccia

(Pronounced vehn-tree-chee-nah dee mohn-ten-ehr-oh dee bee-sahch-chah in Italiano)

Traditionally, ventricina is made in the entire Campobasso area with the best cuts of pork but nowadays, it is made from any cut and pork fat, seasoned with salt, pepper, chili peppers and fennel. The salami is hung close to a fireplace for about a week and then aged for a minimum of 6 months up to 18! They weigh anywhere from 2-3 kilos. 

Caciocavallo di Agnone 

caciocavallo lined up on a table at an outdoor market ready to be sold with a man in the background

(Pronounced cah-choh-cah-vahl-low dee an-oh-neh in Italian)

This cheese,  meaning “horse cheese”, gets its name from the resemblance to saddlebags dangling off a horse when the cheese is hung to mature. 

Made with cow’s milk, caciocavallo is a staple in the southern Italian diet, weighing between 3-7 lbs (1 ½-3 kilos). This pear shaped cheese is aged anywhere from three months to two years. The younger the cheese the sweeter it is but as it ages it takes on spicy notes and has more of a “bite” to it. 

Tip: we highly recommend trying caciocavallo grilled if you get the chance. It holds up well and takes on a whole different taste from the smoke! 

Caprino di Montefalcone nel Sannio

(Pronounced cah-pree-noh dee mohn-tee-fahl-coh-neh nehl sahn-nee-oh in Italian)

This highly prized cheese is made from raw goat’s milk, aged for a minimum of two months. It’s a semi-hard cheese with a soft, snow-white interior covered in a wrinkly rind, aged using a cascera, a special wooden tool that hangs from the ceiling. This cheese is also enjoyed fresh, when it is soft, spread on bread. 

Formaggio di Pietracatella

(Pronounced fohr-mahj-joh dee pee-eh-trah-cah-tel-lah in Italian) 

This cheese, typically from Fortore, in the town of Pietracatella, is made with a mixture of cow, goat and sheep’s milks. The rind is yellow in color with a wrinkly texture while the inside is soft and white that turns yellow as it is left to age in caves, typical of the Pietracatella province.

Manteca

glass jar with a spoonful of manteca being pulled out on a green napkin in background

(Pronounced mahn-teh-cah in Italian)

Also known as burrino, ricotta or butter is preserved in a stretched curd cheese from the caciocavallo production. It’s white or cream colored with a mild flavor that is best on fresh bread.  

Fusilli alla Molisana

(Pronounced foo-seel-lee ah-lah moh-lees-ah-nah in Italian)

This is not only one of the region’s most iconic pasta shapes but also dishes. The fusilli pasta will usually be handmade with semolina flour and water and dressed in a spiced tomato sauce or hearty lamb ragù. 

Cavatelli con Sugo di Ventricina

(Pronounced cah-vah-tehl-lee cohn soo-goh dee vehn-tree-chee-nah in Italian)

This is a classic dish from Ventricina made from the iconic cavatelli pasta served in a rich and spicy sausage ragù. This pasta explodes in your mouth as the pasta sauce gets stuck into the small holes of the cavatelli which burst open with flavor as you bite down on them. 

Ravioli Scapolesi

(Pronounced rah-vee-oh-lee scah-poh-leh-see in Italian)

These ravioli from Scapoli are stuffed with a mixture of sheep’s milk ricotta, sausage, pancetta and seasonal vegetables and served with a typical goat ragù. Every year during carnevale the town celebrates with a sagra or food festival dedicated to these little pillows of heaven. 

Maccheroni Crioli

(Pronounced mahk-ker-roh-nee cree-oh-lee in Italian)

Similar to the spaghetti alla chitarra that you will typically see in Abruzzo, this pasta resembles crioli or shoelaces that shepherd wore. The most traditional way to serve this dish is in a simple yet elegant sauce of locally sourced truffles

Fact: Molise is one of Italy’s largest and best truffle producers!

More Veg Please: Check out my list of Vegetarian Dishes to Try in Italy.

Sagna

(Pronounced sahg-nah in Italian)

This is a common primo in southern regions yet they all differ depending on the local pasta traditions and local legume. Made from homemade pasta and locally sourced beans flavored with carrots, onion, celery, this is a popular dish in the mountains as it is filling and warming. 

Ragù di agnello (o capra)

(Pronounced rah-goo dee ahn-yel-low / cahp-rah in Italian)

It is no surprise that the common ragù is made from lamb and goat instead of beef as pastoral traditions go back  as far as time in Molise. These meat sauces have a slightly richer and gamier flavor than other beef ragù made in other parts of Italy. 

Zuppa alla Santè

(Pronounced zoop-pah ah-lah sahn-teh in Italian)

This is not what you might expect when you order a soup, but it is common in southern Italy, and every region has its own recipe. Served during Christmas, this soup is made from a chicken broth base packed with small goodies such as mini meatballs, fried cheese balls or pieces of bread, cabbage, egg and/or a local cheesecake. It sounds strange, but it’s actually quite delicious

Brodetto alla Termolese

(Pronounced broh-deht-toh ah-lah tehr-moh-leh-seh in Italian) 

Brodetto is a common dish among many regions in Italy. It was developed over history as a way to use fish that weren’t worth much, too small or that didn’t have a market. In Molise’s version green pepper is added, giving it a distinctive color and flavor! 

Fact: Molise uses a method of fishing known as trabucco fishing. Long wooden platforms are built from the mainland which extend into the sea with large arms that hold enormous nets. It’s quite the sight to be seen. You can’t miss them on the southern Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas. 

Baccalà Arracanato

(Pronounced bahc-cah-lah ahr-rah-cah-nah-toh in Italian)

Salt cod fish covered in a gratin of breadcrumbs, pine nuts, walnuts, raisins, olives and cherry tomatoes is cooked in an open fire until crisp on top and tender on the inside. 

Pampanella 

(Pronounced pahm-pah-nehl-lah in Italian)

A must-try street food while visiting! Made from strips of pork loin that are seasoned with lots of sweet and spicy pepper and baked until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. It can either be enjoyed as is or as a sandwich. 

Pezzata

(Pronounced pehz-zah-tah in Italian)

Made from boiled mutton, this is one of Molise’s most iconic dishes. The sheep meat is slow-cooked with potatoes, vegetables and spices to tenderize the meat. Mutton has a very intense flavor as it is an older animal when butchered, so be warned! 

Testine di agnello o capretto

(Pronounced teh-stee-neh dee ahn-yel-low / cah-preht-toh in Italian)

Also called cuccette, this is a traditional secondo made from the head of a lamb (or goat)  which is cut in half, seasoned with olive oil, breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper and oven baked for several hours. 

Cipollata

(Pronounced cee-pohl-lah-tah in Italiano)

A frittata (a large egg omelet) made with the very popular locally grown onion di Isernia

Tip: check out La fiera delle Cipolle ad Isernia every year on the 28th and 29th of June and participate in a true Italian celebration. There is nothing quite like these food festivals! 

Composta Molisana

(Pronounced cohm-poh-stah moh-lee-sah-nah in Italian)

This is how fruits and vegetables were preserved to last cold winter months. Local pears, grapes, tomatoes, onions, peppers and carrots are marinated for at least one month in jars and used to accompany various dishes. 

Dragées 

zoomed in on colored Dragées in a pile from birds eye view

Candy-coated almonds, other nuts or candied fruits are a shared tradition with Abruzzo. Isernia is home to Papa, one of the most well-known dragée companies today. 

Scarpelle

(Pronounced scarh-pel-leh in Italian)

This is basically fried dough from Molise topped with plenty of powdered sugar. What sets these apart is their shape: a twisted form that isn’t easily recreated by those of us who haven’t been trained by an ancient nonna or Molisana grandmother.

Cauciuni

(Pronounced cow-chew-nee in Italian)

Leave it to Molise to make pasta into a dessert! Sweet ravioli is filled with a mixture of chickpeas, cocoa, spices such as cinnamon and cloves, liqueur, and candied fruit. They are then fried and drizzled with honey. 

Ostie farcite

(Pronounced oh-stee-eh fahr-chee-teh in Italian)

Probably Molise’s most favorite dessert are these ostie. Two thin wafer cookies are filled with a sweet filling of walnuts, almonds and honey. Sometimes chocolate is added. 

Peccellate

(Pronounced pehc-cehl-lah-teh in Italian)

Fried or baked pastry is filled with either locally grown grape syrup or grape jam. 

Cippillati 

(Pronounced ceep-peel-lah-tee in Italian)

A half-moon-shaped pastry filled with locally grown sour black cherries and jam.

Crops

a large pile of Tortarello  close up
  • Cicerchie: An ancient legume with a delicate flavor. 
  • Tortarello: Known as an Armenian Cucumber, this vegetable is similar in appearance to a long, skinny cucumber, belonging to the melon family. Great on the digestive system!
  • Centofoglie (scarola venafrana): A type of endive grown in the province of Isernia.
  • Cipolla di Isernia: This flat white bulb onion is particularly sweet, best enjoyed thinly sliced on bread.
  • Fagioli di Riccia: A hearty bean used in salads, with meats and enjoyed alone as a side dish.
  • Farro dicocco del Molise: This ancient grain packs a punch of nutrients with high levels of protein, calcium and iron. Use it to make Italian farro salad!
  • Mais Agostinello: This ancient corn variety was almost extinct but has recently been brought back into the crop rotations. It is used to make polenta or corn flour used in many savory and sweet recipes.
  • Mela zitella: A golden apple variety you will see growing in the hills of Molise (also in Marche and Abruzzo). The fruit is crisp and juicy. Use it to make Italian apple cake!
  • Patata lunga di San Biase: This oval, flat yellow or purple potato grows well at high elevations in the Sannita Apennines. 
  • Pomodori gialli invernali: This small yellow tomato is grown in the summer but harvested and hung in a way that allows you to enjoy them all winter long without molding.

Molise Wine

a side view of a vineyard with Trebbiano white grapes hanging down outdoors
Trebbiano grapes used to make Biferno

Stretching the Adriatic coast all the way to the town of Venafro and up to the Apennine Mountains, Molise is full of lush vineyards that have always produced wine for themselves; however, their wines are slowly gaining popularity internationally. Don’t miss out!

  • Biferno: red, white, or rose. Biferno whites are made with Trebbiano grapes and a bit of Bombino. The red wine is a blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico.
  • Pentro di Isernia: red, white, or rose. The white wine is made with Trebbiano grapes and some Bombino, similar to the biferno. The red wine is a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes.