Not The Great Muppet Caper!
Rather, we’re looking at the little Mediterranean flower buds called capers, indispensable in an Italian Puttanesca Sauce and a beloved (by some) companion for caviar and smoked salmon.
In the United States, it is easy to believe that they originate in a bottle, since they are not grown here, at least commercially, and are imported already pickled and/or salted.
But, in some areas of the Mediterranean, they are as common as weeds, seen “on the hoof” for the first time by myMEGusta on a trip to Rhodes, the Greek island, several years ago.
More recently, they were espied in a street market in Santanji, Mallorca, but looked like some kind of little bean. With the help of amigas Marta and Maria from Madrid, we were able to identify them as fresh capers.
It is said that nasturtium buds can be substituted for fresh capers, but it is a mystery as to why anyone would need fresh ones. When looking for recipes for these fresh beauties, the only dishes that emerged called for them to have been pickled, salted, or marinated in wine. Readers? Are we missing something here?
As a side note, nasturtium flowers and leaves (from an organic, pesticide free garden) make a wonderful, spicy addition to summer salads.
Capers are an acquired taste, and not a personal favorite, probably because of their acidity and somewhat bitter taste (at least to myMEGusta). In small quantities, like in the famous Puttanesca, they add a nice flavor note to a complex sauce which also includes tomatoes, anchovies, garlic, and olives.
They show up as an adjunct to caviar, along with hard boiled egg whites and yolks, chopped raw onion, chives, and sometimes crème fraiche (or sour cream) and blini (Russian buckwheat pancakes). I’ll take my caviar straight, thank you, skip the garnishes.
And, lots of folks like them with smoked salmon, or with fish, in general. It’s all a matter of taste!
Way too few capers on that pictured plate of salmon!
Another good story about an ingredient often overlooked. Yes, more capers are needed with the smoked salmon pictured and I like to see a nice chunk of cream cheese as well. Years ago a sudden and fast disappearing food fad was caper berries, the fully grown fruit. Not much to report about them. Also years ago we made hot caper sauce with boiled leg of lamb, a dish that vanished from most menus. Capers tossed into brown butter became a popular garnish called Grenobloise for fish and poached calf’s brain although no capers are grown in the ski resort.. The smallest capers are considered the best and are consequently the most expensive.