Recipe: Spezzatino all’Uva (Molise-style Pork and Grape Stew)

Written by Katie Parla on August 30, 2023

There’s a saying in Italy: Molise non esiste (Molise does not exist), referring to the second least populated region that barely anyone in the country’s other regions know, visit, or think about. I’m here to tell you Molise esiste and its spectacular.

Molise is a two-hour drive southeast of Rome (only about three-quarters of that duration if I’m driving) into the mountainous heart of Italy. The food is hearty, rustic, and omnivorous. Until 1970, Molise was part of the combined Abruzzi e Molise region. Now the two regions are separated, making Molise the second smallest in Italy, both by area and by population (first prize goes to Valle D’Aosta in the north). The population has fallen with nearly every census since 1921 due to emigration to Italian cities in the north, as well as to northern Europe and beyond. The roughly 313,000 molisani are mainly clustered around the cities of Campobasso and Isernia, both nestled into the Apennine Mountains. Almost 95 percent of the region is mountainous or hilly, and its sparsely populated land is largely agricultural. Small farms produce farro (emmer), cicerchie (grass peas), and wine grapes like the indigenous Tintillia.

Tintillia is cultivated mainly in the Adriatic-facing Apennine foothills. It’s known for its low yield and pleasant notes of red fruit and spices. Each year, the majority of the harvested grapes are pressed to make wine, with the remainder reserved for jams and even savory dishes like this pork and grape stew. The slight sweetness of the grapes mingles beautifully with the savory pork and herbaceous notes of the bay leaves. Salt the pork 24 hours in advance.

Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, salted and cut into 2-inch cubes
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 cup dry red wine (from Molise if you can get it)
2 bay leaves
1 bunch of red grapes, halved and seeded 
4 cups pork stock, other meat stock, vegetable broth, or water

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pork, working in batches as needed, and cook, turning, until it is browned on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the pork and set aside on a plate.

Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic and cook until just golden, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat to medium, and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the alcohol aroma dissipates and the liquid has nearly evaporated, about 4 minutes, add the bay leaves and the grapes.

Return the pork to the pan. Add enough stock so the meat is mostly submerged, then season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1½ to 2 hours more, until the pork is fork-tender. If the sauce becomes too dry, add a bit more stock (you may not need all the stock). Serve immediately.

Recipe from Food of the Italian South. Photo credit: Ed Anderson.

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