Most Italian-Americans are from Southern Italy, mainly Abruzzi, Molise, Bari, Puglia, Naples, Campania, and Calabria, and immigrated to the United States out of extreme poverty in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Italians brought their culture to America with them including foods from regions of their birth. Southern Italian cooking is the soul food of Italy. This food is unpretentious, tasteful, colorful and wholesome. Southern Italians cook foods that originate from their region. The Molise region has long, hot seasons which contributes to the abundance of vegetables, fruits, dark bitter greens, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, onions, cauliflower, broccoli, artichokes, lentils, fava beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, olives, wheat, corn, nuts, lemons and oranges. The poverty of Southern Italy created a regional cuisine that was predominantly plant based. This is in opposition to Northern Italian food, which is meatier and creamier.
Molise is a mountain region divided by the sea. Fish and meat are included in this cuisine, however, as a compliment to a meal. Due to Molise’s rough terrain, cows do not survive in the region. Therefore, beef, butter and cream do not play a role in their cuisine. On the other hand, pigs flourish in Molise and play a large part in the creation of meat dishes. Molise is famous for cured meat from pork, such as prosciutto, mortadella and sausage. Lamb and chicken dishes are also prominent in this cuisine. Olive oil is a marinade to meats and poultry. From the sea, sardines, anchovies, eel and shellfish are eaten. Peperoncino (crushed hot red pepper flakes) is used to flavor many dishes. Peperoncino flakes awaken the tongue with bursts of intense heat, while ground peperoncino gives a smoldering flavor to food. The Molise region is known for hotter, spicier dishes. Garlic, parsley, and onion are used in many Italian dishes. Cheese is made from the milk of goats and the water buffalo.
Some of Italy’s best cooks come from Molise. In the 1500s, nobles, along with the very rich who lived in other parts of Italy, would hire the best cooks from Molise, preferring fresh, stimulating foods of Southern Italy. Southern Italian cuisine is cherished for its delicious, healthy meals at a time when clean eating and incorporating more fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes into our diets becomes more important to us.
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