If one were asked to pick the ten most widespread ingredients in Mediterranean Cuisine it would be really hard, if not impossible, to leave the caper out. The taste screams for sunny European coast lines, as if it were a direct metaphor of mediterranea-ism.
Capers are the unopened bud of “Capparis Spinosa”, a wild rupicolous bush which grows very well in the cracks of sun-exposed stone walls. The history of human’s use of capers in cooking takes us back a few thousand years, to ancient Greece and Biblical times. The etymology could in fact refer to the Greek island of Cyprus where capers grow abundantly. And the caper berry, which Italians call “cucuncio”, is actually featured in the Book of Ecclesiastes as an aphrodisiac.
Today capers are grown, preserved (best is salted but they can be pickled) and consumed pretty much all over the world, from Himalayan locations to Israel and Australia. Italy by the way is the one country that has turned it into a cornerstone of some of its most important recipes, particularly in the Sicilian tradition. On the island of Pantelleria for instance, where some of the best capers are grown, there’s a very easy and incredibly delicious salad recipe: 4 boiled potatoes, a bunch of Pachino tomatoes, 1 sliced onion, a few crushed basil leaves, 2 tbsp black olives, 1 full tbsp of capers and 4 small mackerels marinated in EVOO. Capers are also essential in her majesty the Caponata, a dish which literally every single Sicilian town has interpreted in its own way though based on fried vegetables seasoned with tomato, celery, onion, olives and capers in a sweet and sour sauce.
In spaghetti “alla puttanesca”, crushed and added to a traditional Pesto recipe as well as in seafood dishes, inside stuffed capsicums, as a pizza topping with anchovies, on a grilled squid…Literally, the possibilities are endless and you can almost consider it as a spice adding a potent, marine, fresh kick to your recipes whenever you feel like it’s time for summer. Be bold and experiment, it will be really hard to be disappointed!