You may have seen capers on the menu as an ingredient of many fancy meals and have always wondered what they actually are? Maybe you even use them yourself but you’re still uncertain as to what they may be. Well, whatever the case is, by the time you’re done with this article you’ll know what they are and we’ll even give you a few tasty recipes as well. Let’s get started.
What Are Capers?
Well, believe it or not, capers are actually flower buds that come from a plant called Finders Rose (or Capparis spinosa if you want to get really technical). You may even call the plant a Caper Bush, but that just doesn’t sound right. Now, most parts of the plant aren’t actually used in any cuisine, which was probably the case for the capers themselves for a long time.
You see, a raw caper is not something you’d probably enjoy as they’re unbelievably bitter. However, someone tried pickling them and well, they made the right move. When pickled, although still strong, these little guys become pretty tasty and are a welcome addition in Mediterranean cuisine, especially Greek and Italian. Granted, you still wouldn’t eat them alone, as they still pack quite a punch with all the salt, zest and bitterness, but they really do a good job as a seasoning.
Aside from packing a punch, these little guys are rich in protein, fibre, vitamins A,C,E and K, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. However, as it’s usually the case with pickled foods, they’re very high in sodium.
Another thing to keep in mind though, capers shouldn’t be confused with caper berries, which are the fruit of the plant.
Now, let’s move on to the fun part. Let’s take a look at how you can treat your taste buds to something different, possibly even exotic. Here are some of the tastiest, most common recipes in which you can find these pickled flower buds we like to call capers.
1. Sicilian Swordfish
Sicilian Swordfish is a traditional dish of the city of Messina that you absolutely have to try if you’re ever in the south of Italy. It is a rather simple, yet delicious recipe, so you can even easily make it yourself if you have all the necessary ingredients, which we believe wouldn’t be too hard to find. Let’s take a look at the ingredients. You’ll need:
- 500 gr of swordfish
- 500 gr of cherry tomatoes
- 60 gr of green olives
- Olive oil
- Garlic clove
- 10 gr of capers
- Black pepper
As you can tell just by looking at the ingredients, you’re in for a special, Mediterranean meal.
You’ll start by washing and cutting the cherry tomatoes in half. Put that aside and add olive oil and a peeled garlic clove in the pan and place over medium fire. When the garlic browns, add the tomatoes, salt and oregano and cook for about 10 minutes. While it’s cooking, cut up olives into slices and add them along with capers into the pan and stir.
After 10 or so minutes, add the swordfish to the sauce and cook it for about 3 minutes on each side. You can add salt or pepper to your liking. Once it’s done, you can add some more capers as a garnish, but that’s optional.
2. Vitello Tonnato
If you were to ask italiaregina.it for a most Piedmont-esqe dish in the world, they would most certainly say Vitello Tonnato. If you can’t tell by the name, this is a veal based meal and arguably one of the most famous ones in Italy. It’s an old, passed down a recipe that has been with us for generations. For a long time, it was a meal that would gather families around the table during the holidays, so it’s safe to say that this one is a timeless classic. It sounds and looks like you’d need a Michelin star to make it, but that’s not the case. This is actually a rather simple and quick meal to prepare, as you’re about to see. You’ll need:
- 800 gr of magatello (steak) veal
- Coast of celery
- Golden onion
- Garlic clove
- A glass of white wine
- 5L of water
- Bay leaf
- Olive oil
- Black pepper
- 100 gr of tuna
- 5 gr of desalted capers
Don’t let the ingredient list scare you. You start rather simple, by washing and cutting up the vegetables (carrot, celery, onion) and putting them in a bowl with garlic. Take an iron skillet and put the veal in along with the vegetables, bay leaf and 2-3 cloves and season with black pepper. Pour the white wine and the water in the pan, add salt and oil and leave it to cook for about 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, drain the pan and let the meat cool down.
As for the broth, remove bay leaf and cloves and let the rest of it shrink over high heat. Hard boil a couple of eggs, cut them up and add in a bowl with the vegetables, broth, tuna, anchovies and desalted capers and mix everything until it becomes a smooth cream.
Once the meat is cooled down, cut it into slices, arrange on a serving dish and pour the cream over the meat. Boun appetito!
3. Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Lastly, we have another typical dish from Southern Italy. This one is prepped rather quickly, so you can easily fall back on this recipe if you’re ever in a time pinch. You’ll need:
- 500 gr of pasta
- 500 gr of tomatoes
- 100 gr of black olives
- Garlic cloves
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh chilli
- Tablespoon of capers in salt
Start by making an X-shaped incision on the top of the tomatoes and boiling them for a minute. After you do that, peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds and chop them up into small cubes. Chop parsley, anchovies, garlic, capers, chilli and black olives as well.
Next up, add olive oil to the pan and add chopped garlic into it until it browns. After it browns, add anchovies and the pepper and once anchovies begin to melt, add the olives and capers. Cook for a few minutes before adding tomatoes and parsley to the pan. Once you’ve put everything in, cook for another 15 minutes on low heat. After that, add already cooked pasta to the pan a sauté it or a few more minutes until adding the rest of the parsley and finishing the meal.
We don’t know about you, but we’ve gotten rather hungry by the time we’ve got to this point. Maybe it’s time to visit a kitchen and see if there are some capers in there we could use – what do you say?