Secret ingredient: Capers
Do you feel like a caper? No, not the sort that involves jolly japes and other shenanigans, but the little green buds that come in glass jars.
WHAT ARE CAPERS?
Most of us know what capers look like – little pea-size dark green objects usually sold in glass jars. But what are they and where do they come from? Well, they start life growing on a shrub-like bush (Capparis spinosa) that grows particularly well in the Mediterranean region, but also in parts of Asia, the Middle East and California. More recently a small but sophisticated caper industry has taken shape in Australia too.
After being picked (by hand, which accounts for their price), the unopened buds are wilted in the sun or large industrial kilns and later brined or packed in salt.
Capers have been used – originally for medicinal purposes and later in cooking – for thousands of years. They come in a variety of sizes; from that of a baby green pea through to the size of a small olive; the smallest ones – and also the most expensive – hail from southern France and are known as nonpareils. Larger capers are stronger in flavor and less aromatic but should not be confused with caper berries, which are capers that have been allowed to mature until they are about the size of an olive. Like capers, they are brined and can be eaten straight from the jar (they make great finger food on an antipasto platter).
WHAT DO THEY TASTE LIKE?
Their sharp, somewhat salty taste is not to everyone’s taste, but they add a special piquancy to Mediterranean dishes, among others.
WHERE CAN I FIND THEM?
Brined capers are freely available in supermarkets, but if you are after the salted variety you may have to track them down in a specialty food shop. Once opened, keep your capers refrigerated and, most importantly, submerged beneath the brine.
WHAT CAN I USE INSTEAD?
It’d be a shame to try to substitute the flavour of capers but if you must, then try chopped green olives.
GOT ANY GOOD RECIPES USING THEM?
Recipes with veal, fish, and a number of pasta sauces (see below) are among the most popular ways to use capers. Then there are wine sauces, salad dressings, pizza, turkey, meats, relishes, tapenades, Mediterranean dishes, artichoke, vegetables, and olives. They can also be fried and then tossed into a dish for a crunchier, crispier flavour and texture.
Can you grow capers?
How to grow capers
Mature caper bushes can grow three feet high and spread four or five feet. They require dry heat and intense sunlight to flourish. They will be killed by temperatures below 20 degrees F. In the north, bring the plants inside during the winter or just grow them in pots in a greenhouse. Seeds are dormant and notoriously difficult to germinate. You can just try starting the seeds, but the following technique will give the best success (40-50%).
Soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours. Put seeds in a wet towel, seal in a plastic bag and leave in the refrigerator for 6-8 weeks. Remove, soak again in warm water for 24 hours. Plant seeds 3/8 inch deep (lcm) in a mixture of potting soil/perlite/sand (50/25/25%). Use 4-6″ pots and put 4-5 seeds per pot. Seeds should germinate in 3-4 weeks. Grow until 3-5″ tall. Save the best plant; cut the rest with a scissors(don ‘t just pull them out). When transplanting, disturb the root as little as possible. For northem gardeners, when transplanting, protect plant from elements until it has taken (cover with plastic bag for the first 3-4 days, then cut top of the bag to admit some of the elements and leave a week, then remove entire bag) or use row covers. While not the easiest plant to grow, it is worth the effort to harvest and make your own capers.
Source: Seeds from Italy
Where can I buy caper seeds?
Google: Where to buy caper seeds, there’s heaps of places