Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Flavors of Forio, Una Giornata Verace, Ischia (Na)

Ivano Veccia and the gang!
I’m not sure how many guidebooks would suggest a visit to Ischia during the month of January.  Considering that the lidos are closed as well as a majority of restaurants including   three Michelin starred restaurants (like Nino Di Costanzo’s Dani Maison, recently awarded 2 Michelin stars after being opened for only one short summer season)

So why would a food blogger hop on a ferry during a sunny, yet windy rocky wavy day? I asked myself that question as well. However, the answer is easy.  This may be the perfect opportunity to see an Island usually jam-packed with international tourist slimmed down to just the locals.  A chance to rediscover the island con calma, in the company of those who know it best.  In the company of Ischitani like pizza maker Ivano Veccia and chef Crescenzo Scotti who took me on a journey through the traditions and flavors of Ischia- focusing on Forio.  Forio, one of six counties on the large island of Ischia with recipes and traditions all its own.  And what better way to discover those traditions than to enjoy a tavolata- a long lunch with friends and family.  A tavolata starring many of the recipes and flavors that inspire some of Ischia’s top chefs.

Veccia invited me into his home, into his kitchen, and into his close group of family and friends.  Veccia is a pizza maker and his brother Gaetano, a baker, so it seemed natural that the family’s cozy kitchen included 2 wood burning ovens as well as a fireplace.
The long dining room table, packed with food, wine and laughter treated me to one of the best meals I have had in a long while.  Ischia awaited me with dishes prepared by Ivano's mom, la signora Anna, such as a zampognaro bean soup.

The zampognaro bean is a bean that is only found in Ischia, and it’s not that easy to find.  It takes a lot of work to get a small quantity of beans including old school thrashing.    The beans were soaked overnight 10 to 15 hours.  Then cooked for about an hour or so alongside carrots, celery and onions.  The beans were served on a piece of toasted bread and lard.

Another dish that caught my eye and palate included escarole alla monachina – an endive salad stewed with raisins.

Pizza di scarola- Escarole or endive pizza is a Campania classic, but Forio has its own twist on this stuffed pizza.  Pizza dough is stuffed with stewed escarole/endive salad, olives, capers, raisins,  and in some cases, pine nuts.  Instead of baking the pizza pie in the oven, In Forio, it is cooked in a frying pan.  Mulled wine is added to give it a surprising touch of sweetness!

A must in Ischia is the famous coniglio alla Ischitana.  Rabbit Ischia style.  Once again, each county has its recipe, and at the Veccia household, I discovered that the rabbit is prepared in a terracotta pot over coals in the fireplace. 

Olive oil, piperna, tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper and about an hour or so produces an excellent pasta sauce….

Gaetano, Ivano’s older brother prepared the pasta with an expertise that only experience can teach.  Then an amazing thing- he tossed the pasta in the sauce, but not over the stovetop, but right at the mouth of the wood burning oven!

As well as an amazing second course that must be eaten with your hands!

And Ivano?  It is impossible to have lunch at a pizza maker’s home without trying a pizza or to.  In a wink of an eye, Veccia produced his escarole pizza, known in dialect as 'a pizza ca' scarol trciut 
His pizza dough is topped with tomato sauce, garlic and olive oil and placed in the oven.  

Then, as soon as it comes out, topped with escarole salad, tomatoes, papacelle, and marinated eggplant.  

Veccia also uses anchovies if he has them on hand. Then it is folded over and eaten like a sandwich! 


 As I think about that Saturday afternoon, one spent looking to discover the recipes of an Italian island during the off-season, I am thankful that I discovered the warmth and hospitality of the inhabitants of Ischia as well.  
And that you will not find in any guidebook. 😉

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