And this is what the cave rabbit looks like when it’s cooked. To be absolutely honest, this wasn’t an actual cave rabbit. They are too rare and too expensive to be thrown away on a casual visitor. La Focolare, the D’Ambra’s trattoria which honours Ischia’s rural traditions in design and dishes, was between cave rabbits when I was there. The pair I saw were for breeding purposes.
Coniglio Ischitani is an island speciality available practically anywhere in the interior, but people travel to Il Focolare just to eat their version. Quite rightly, too. It starts with a good quality rabbit. It proceeds to the pot – tegame – in which the dismembered rabbit is cooked. The tegame, a round earthenware pot, should be made on the island with clay from the island. It itself, this isn’t a process that can be hurried. It takes 2 to 3 weeks to make a pot from start to finish, with several firings, glazings and rest periods between.
Then there’s the cooking. That takes about 2 hours, with tomatoes, white wine, a touch of garlic and, in the case of Il Focolare, a very particular, fragrant wild thyme with a curious, slightly musty edge to it.
At the end of cooking, mush of the cooking juices are strained off to serve as sauce for pasta con salsa di coniglio, another thrifty Italian culinary tradition, before the pot is brought to your table so you can gently prize away the tender flesh from the bones and savour the tomato-infused, thyme-pricked, sweet richness of the rabbit itself.