As I may or may not have mentioned before in these “pages”, my paternal grandparents are both from the same town, just a little village really, on a hill in Molise, Italy called Guardialfiera. Tonight’s post points the ship in that direction.
Molise is a region wedged between Abruzzo, Puglia, Campania, Lazio, and the Adriatic Sea. It is Italy’s second smallest region, and perhaps its most obscure. Much of Molise to this day, is totally rural (Molise’s largest city and capitol, Campobasso, has just a bit more than 50,000 residents), and despite its relatively southerly location, Molise is home to some of the most rigid winter conditions in all of Italy. The shores of the Adriatic rise quite rapidly into high hills, which then give way to the permanently snowcapped Apennine sub-ranges of the Mainarde and the Matese. This is a place whose cuisine still clearly reflects this rugged terrain. In fact, the main course I cooked here is about as “fancy” as it gets in la cucina molisana – any meat, much less beef is the exception rather than the rule. The pasta is, conversely, quintessentially Molisano. All of its elements spring from the cold earth or the chilly pantry…
The wine is a pure Aglianico, which is, along with the far rarer Tintilia, Molise’s traditional red grape, NOT Montepulciano, which is a recent transplant from Abruzzo, to which Molise was attached until 1961. Aglianico has been cultivated here from time immemorial, and Molise is perhaps the only place where this often austere, “mountain” grape is grown near the warming, breezy sea as is the case here.
I include the recipes for the first course and the second as well (the contorno or side dish was just chopped spinach, blanched, sauteed in olive oil, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice) just below the wine notes. As you’ll see, the name of the pasta is in the Molisano dialect – Maccarun ch’i hiucc – which is pronounced approximately: ma-ka-ROON Ki-HYOOK…or you might just want to go with Rigatoni with cauliflower, bread crumbs, and almonds…
Di Majo Norante Aglianico del Molise Riserva “Contado” 2007
Deep, slightly russet purple garnet color. Elegant but forward aromas of black cherry, leather, sandalwood, plums, sweet brown spices, licorice, and coal smoke. In the mouth the wine is texturally rich and velvety but still very well balanced with fine, dry, and elegantly austere tannins framing clean but layered flavors of maraschino liqueur, dark chocolate, prune, and dried rose and hibuscus petals. Subtle notes of strawberry preserves echo on the warm, long, and savory finish.
Maccarun “ch’i hiucc”
1 lb. pennoni rigate, or rigatoni
1 small head of cauliflower (about 1-1 ½ lbs.)
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic sliced very thin
3/4 cup homemade bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup blanched, skinned, toasted and chopped almonds (a bit larger than rice grains)
- Wash and trim the cauliflower, and break into very small florets. Place in a large saucepan, cover with water, salt well, and gently boil until tender, about 7-8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and fry until golden. Add the breadcrumbs, and fry them for about 5-6 minutes.
- Add the cauliflower and the almonds to the pan, season very well with salt and pepper, and carefully stir together all of the ingredients, and cook for 3 minutes more.
- Cook and drain the pasta, reserving approximately ½ cup of the water. Toss the drained pasta with the sauce. Add the reserved pasta water, toss again, serve immediately without grated cheese.
Filetti di manzo all’alloro e rosmarino
1 lb. Boneless, thin-cut lean beef filets (such as top round or “braciole” cut) pounded to less than 1/4 in. thickness, seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper
4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 large sprig of rosemary, left whole
3 large bay leaves
Plate of flour for dredging, with 1 heaping tsp. reserved
2 Tbs. butter
7 oz. dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a wide skillet heat the rosemary and bay leaves, well coated with the oil over medium low heat. Let fry very gently until the rosemary is lightly crisp, and the bay leaves are very fragrant, about 6-7 minutes. Remove the herbs from the oil, and raise the heat to medium high.
- Dredge the meat in the flour and, in batches if necessary, fry the pieces in the oil until golden brown on both sides (about 3-4 minutes per side) remove to a plate and keep warm.
- Add a splash of the wine to the pan to release the browned bits, and cook until it has evaporated.
- Reduce the heat to medium, and add the butter. When melted, add the reserved flour and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
- Slowly stir in the wine and bring to a strong simmer stirring for 2-3 minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated, and a moderately thick sauce has formed.
- Reduce the heat to low, return the meat to the pan, and turn carefully to coat with the sauce. Let the meat heat through for 2 minutes, check S&P, then and serve immediately covered with some of the sauce.