Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pick of the Week: Capers

True aficionados of capers pass over those cured in vinegar, instead reaching for capers cured in sea salt. I admit to being a food snob about many products, and yes, I like those cured in salt better, but I'll take ones packed in vinegar any day over not enjoying capers.

I love them all, these tiny flavor packed jewels, that are ancient enough to be mentioned in the Bible. Capers are the immature buds of a small perennial bush that grows wild in the Mediterranean and Middle East. From what I have read -- never experienced -- the buds are not especially flavorful, but sun dry and pack them in vinegar or salt, and they come to life. Either method requires rinsing under cold water to remove some of the salty taste. The flavor is intense, so only a few added to a recipe works wonders.

A few years ago, I went on a tour of The Bronx's Little Italy, Arthur Avenue, with Wilton, CT, cooking school teacher Sally Maraventano. (By the way, if you have never been on one of Sally's tours, do yourself a favor and book one. Her next one is scheduled for Wednesday, March 24, and although the cost may seem steep -- $150 -- it includes a 3-course wonderful lunch, and is worth every cent. Check it out at her cooking school, Cucina Casalinga's Web site, It's a day you won't long forget.)

But I digress. On that tour, Sally introduced us to caper berries, capers past the immature bud stage. They are much larger and less salty than the caper berries, and I love tossing them into salads or simply eating as is from the jar.

In recipes: Capers must be rinsed. For vinegar cured capers, place in strainer and rinse under cold, running water. For salt cured, soak in water 15 to 30 minutes. Any longer will make the caper mushy. Once soaked, rinse in strainer and use.

The following recipe for a caper paste is from "Red, White & Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables," by Faith Willinger, and is wonderful spread on bread, thinned down with a bit of olive oil on grilled fish, or added to tomato sauce for that WOW factor.

1/2 cup capers
3 cups water (optional for vinegar-brined capers)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for packing
2 tsp. dried Sicilian oregano
  • Soak salt-packed capers for 30 minutes in the 3 cups water, drain, and pat dry with paper towels. Or, rinse brine-packed capers and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Process the capers with the remaining ingredients to make a fine-textured paste. Pack into a jar and cover the caper paste with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil. Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep forever. Makes 1 cup.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds wonderful. Thanks for writing about capers because I don't see much about them except in recipes for chicken or veal piccata.