Towards the end of Julia Moskin’s recent article in The New York Times on Ischian cooking traditions, Enoteca la Stadera owner Ivo Iacono’s mention of an old family recipe caught my notice:
One of his childhood favorites was a dish called figliata — a word meaning “litter,” as in puppies — made of eggs, basil, cheese and stale bread. “When you had another child,” he said, “you could just add another egg.”
Up until that moment, reading this article had me in a familiar emotional state, one best described as a mixture of interest, appreciation, and a Schadenfreude-esque delight at any hint, however minor, of dilettantism. To be clear, the article is very good: aptly descriptive, engaging, informative. Why wouldn’t it be? Moskin is a pro food reporter and accomplished cookbook writer/editor. She highlights Iacono’s activities as a restaurateur and outlines Ischia’s intriguing history while staying astutely focused on the real star of the story—Ischia’s food, specifically long-practiced cooking methods that make use of the island’s natural heat sources (hot springs, sand). In truth, I felt only a wee bit superior when reading her explanations for the unversed—such as ‘Ischia (pronounced ISS-kee-ah)…’ or ‘a popular lunch dish called caponata,’ and the like. The truly gratifying moment, though, I’m not ashamed to admit (perhaps I should be) came when I realized Moskin had all but overlooked what for me is the most intriguing part of the story: the family recipe Iacono calls figliata (from figlio/figlia = son/daughter).
I could find no information on this dish. There’s no mention of figliata in any of my cookbooks, not even the unfailingly comprehensive La Cucina Italiana encyclopedia. (While searching the web I did discover something called pizza figliata, a sweet pastry reminiscent of strudel that’s popular in Campania.) I asked around, resisting a temptation to contact Iacono directly for a quote. Niente. So, based on Iacono’s description, I reasoned that figliata must basically amount to a kind of panzanella with boiled eggs. This is what I came up with:
400 grams of stale Tuscan bread (a stale ciabatta would work)
1 handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
fresh chopped chives (optional)
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp white vinegar
salt & pepper
Soak the bread in cold water for about 20 minutes. Strain and squeeze out all the excess water, then crumble the now-soft bread into a large bowl. Boil or steam the eggs for about 7 minutes, then cool, peel and roughly chop them. Add the eggs and basil to the bread and combine. Now add the oil and vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and blend well. Garnish with more fresh basil and some chopped chive (my addition, optional).
Add one egg for each additional child, per Signor Ivo Iacono.