While seafood is an obvious speciality on the island, Ischia is also famed for its rabbit, bred on inland farms. Indeed, the island's most famous dish is coniglio al'ischitana, local rabbit slow-cooked in a terracotta pot with olive oil, unpeeled garlic, chilli, tomato, basil, thyme and white wine.
Ischia on a Fork
If you wanted to stick the best parts of Ischian cuisine on a fork, you’d need to make it a big one. The island’s insularity and rich volcanic soil have thrown up a rich melange of recipes over the years, many of them subtly different from dishes found elsewhere in Campania.
A popular Ischian starter is caponata. Unlike Sicilian caponata (made with aubergines), the Ischian dish resembles tomato bruschetta with added tuna and olives. It was originally a poor person’s food, made for farmers out in the fields from the leftovers of the previous day’s stale bread.
For the main course, there’s an enticing choice between land and sea. Classic seafood dishes adhere to a cooking method known as acqua pazza (crazy water): white fish poached in a herb-heavy broth with locally grown pomodorini (cherry tomatoes), garlic and parsley. Typical local fish include pesce bandiera (sailfish), the flat castagna, lampuga and palamide (a small tuna). Smaller seafood, such as squid, prawns and anchovies, are best enjoyed fried in a frittura di parzana (meaning ‘from the trawler’) and served simply with lemon.
Plump local pomodorini make a reappearance in the most classic of all Ischian dishes, coniglio all’ischitana, a rabbit stew cooked on the hob in a large terracotta pot with a sauce of olive oil, unpeeled garlic, tomato, chilli, basil, thyme and white wine. Traditionally, rabbits were caught wild, but by the late 20th century cage-bred rabbits had become standard fare on Ischia. In recent years, in a nod to the Slow Food movement, farmers have started to return to rearing rabbits di fossa (semi-wild in burrows).
Despite its high population density and limited agricultural terrain, Ischia still supports an estimated 800 hectares of vineyards, most of them terraced on the lower slopes of Monte Epomeo. Wine production in Ischia goes back to the ancient Greeks and the island harbours some of Italy’s oldest DOCs. With fish or pasta, try a Forastera or a Biancolella (both whites). With the rich coniglio all’ischitana go for a ruby red Piedirosso.
If you’ve room for dessert, opt for chocolate and almond cake (an import from nearby Capri), helped down with an obligatory ice-cold limoncello.