I love Campania—the people, the food, the wine, the volcanic vibe. So I'm excited about the restaurant La Piperna, relocated from the San Niccolo area to a decidedly un-touristy neighborhood in Florence.
The restaurant features the cuisine of Ischia, and is far easier for me than hopping on a train and a ferry. It gets its name from the wild thyme that grows on the island.
Ischia, until the boom of spas and tourism, was relatively poor, and its cuisine was based on vegetables and seafood, with rabbit on Sunday. Owners Luciano and chef Claudio Marangoni are true to the island's culinary traditions, and the menu is short, fantastic, and inexpensive. Begin with a deep-fried medley of ricotta, seasonal vegetables and potato croquette, braised vegetable trio, or island-style octopus. I can't resist spaghetti with clams. Fans of short pasta will enjoy paccheri (wide tubular shape) with grouper and peppers or penne with eggplant and provola cheese. Mussel soup and fish baked in salt are tempting. Rabbit (raised on Ischia) is prepared during cool weather months.
The new location also has a wood-burning pizza oven manned by a skilled pizzaiolo who's worked extensively in Naples, and his pizza meets my exacting standards, especially the DOC, with buffalo mozzarella and fresh tomatoes. I'm crazy about the wines from Casa d'Ambra, made with native varietals—Biancolella or single-vineyard Calitto Bianco (biancolella, fiano, and greco). Desserts, like the rest of the menu, are pure Campania—baba, chocolate almond Caprese cake, torta Ischia (crumbled pastry, custard, orange marmalade and zest). Finish your meal with a complimentary glass of Rucolino , a digestive based on Italian arugula.
La Piperna, via Gian Paolo Orsini 60/r. tel. 055-527-0661. Closed Monday, open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner every night but Monday.
Note: If you want to sound like an island native, say ISH-key-ah.