Eating Molise, part 3

A couple days later it was time for a visit to a local flour mill to see their production process and get a pasta-making lesson from the owners. We explained that we didn't think we could survive one more gigantic home-cooked meal and were promised that our hosts wouldn't lay on a lunch. We'd just get to take home the pasta we made.

Molino Cofelice is in Matrice, the next hamlet over from Montagano. Dionisio and his daughter, Martina, showed us the workings of the old stone mill wheels and their more modern equipment and explained the different kinds and grades of flour. they produce.
Upstairs, Annarita, the family matriarch, showed us how to make cavatelli, maloreddi, and maltagliati, three local pasta shapes. Where the historically wealthy north of Italy makes pasta with eggs, here in the rural south it's just flour and water, the food of subsistence. Here are Max and Danny with some of our morning's production. The trays in front of Danny look yellow not because of egg, but because they're made with semolina rather than durum flour.

Anarita also showed us how to make another local specialty, cornmeal pizza, which is closer to polenta than to conventional wheat-based pizza. (Note how elegantly she's dressed for the task of making pasta. That strikes me as very Italian.)
The uncooked cornmeal is mixed with olive oil and salt, then patted flat into a pan. It's baked for 20 or 25 minutes--first sprinkled with cheese, if you want to be fancy--then topped with cooked greens, typically a mix of chicory, savoy cabbage, and broccoli rabe. The resulting dish is called pizza e minestre.

We'd had a version of it at Trattoria La Grotta da Concetta (Zia Concetta, or Aunt Concetta, for short), a wonderful slow-food restaurant in Campobasso, where little chunks of cornbread are mixed into the greens. It was the highlight of the meal. I  couldn't wait to try making it myself.

We left not only with some basic pasta skills and about five pounds of fresh pasta, but also Molino Cofelice aprons and an armful of various flours and pastas that they insisted we take with us. 

Then Annarita and Martina said we couldn't leave Matrice without seeing its most important sight, Santa Maria della Strada, a 12th-century church. As luck would have it, a big wedding was just concluding, but Annarita marched right in to show us the church. We also got to see the locals in all their finery and the bride and groom being pelted with rice as they cut through a long line of white ribbons held up by their friends.

The church is simple and lovely and a bit grim, as befits a medieval pilgrimage stop. Life was tough, and then you died, and then you probably went to hell.

These little Italian boys were wedding guests. They already look like they belong in a GQ fashion spread.

On the way home from the mill we stopped by the market to pick up some supplies to cook with our pasta. Then we hurried home to have a late lunch--and ended up making ourselves a pranzo just as gut-bustingly large as anything our various Italian friends had put us through. We staved off starvation with some salumi and cheese while we made cavatelli with tomato sauce and mussels, maltagliatti with truffles and spinach, and the cornmeal pizza with cheese and chicory.

That last was disappointing, because although I boiled up the chicory as Annarita had instructed, then drained it and stewed it in olive oil and garlic, it ended up being too bitter. Later, my Montagano friend Maria told me that's because after I boiled the chicory, I'd neglected to soak it in cold water overnight before sauteing it.

The thought of leaching out still more vitamins from the greens shocked me. But then Maria made us a gratin of chicory, using greens she'd gathered out in the fields this past spring and stored in her freezer. The flavor was so smooth and satisfying that I decided vitamins aren't really all that important.

Indeed, we seem to be letting a lot of things fall by the wayside. Like any attempt to watch what we eat. Despite our late and large lunch, a few hours later found us at the only sit-down restaurant in Montagano, The Garden of Bacchus, a pizza-and-karaoke place. We indulged in the former (excellent) but not the latter (fairly excruciating).

That's Steven's mum, Janice, with the kids. (I should note that we haven't completely lost our senses--Fanta here is a much nicer, less fluorescent drink than the version they sell in the U.S.)

Lina ordered a Napoli pizza (tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovies) and was thrilled to discover that for just one euro more she could have it shaped into a heart, with her name spelled out on it in pizza-dough letters.

I'm hoping they let her use this photo on her new Italian ID card, when the time comes.