Blame it on my Sicilian grandfather: I love capers.
Native to the Mediterranean region, capers are embraced in French and Greek cuisine as well as recipes found in Spain and the southern regions of Italy, where most certainly my forebears picked up the caper habit.
These small, usually brined buds (or berries) plucked from a flowering bush resemble the pea, darker green in color, but taste nothing like one. "Salty and sassy" is how I describe capers.
Adding a tablespoon to a pasta dish completely alters the dining experience. Try a few in your favorite red or white sauce, or toss a heaping teaspoon of capers on top of your ho-hum salad.
If too salty for your palate, drain a portion from the jar and rinse briefly under tap water. The texture and taste can really wake up a simple recipe. Get creative and fold them into meatloaf or meatballs. Used as a garnish, they add visual interest on top of soups, stews, fish or poultry.
If adding capers to a recipe that lists a fair amount of salt, I recommend cutting back on the sodium. For the health-conscious chef, capers get high marks for their medicinal properties.
Purchasing a jar might pinch your food budget, but they go a long way. You need only a few capers to enhance most recipes, and stored in the refrigerator after opening extends their shelf life. Usually found in the condiment aisle, think of them as a long-term cooking investment with dozens of options for use.
Larger bottles cost proportionately less, but I recommend a small jar to begin your own experimenting. The guess here is that you’ll end up reaching for the larger jar the next time you purchase capers.
And somewhere, that will bring a salty smile to my grandfather.
Shannon's Red Sauce with Capers
Makes: 4-6 servings
grape seed oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
½ medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried basil
4 cups fresh or canned chopped tomatoes, mashed
freshly ground black pepper to taste
sea salt to taste
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons capers
olive oil, for drizzling
a few fresh basil leaves, finely sliced for garnish
Heat a saute pan on medium setting and drizzle grape seed oil to coat the pan. When the oil just begins to bubble, add the garlic and onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. (You may need to turn the heat down to low or medium-low.) Add the oregano and basil and saute for a minute or two more. Stir in the tomatoes, pepper, sea salt, red pepper flakes and capers.
Let it all simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add the sauce to your favorite cooked pasta. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with basil leaves.
Shannon M. Smurthwaite is a Southern California native. The mother of four children, she and her husband, Donald, reside in Idaho. She is the author of "Mormon Mama Italian Cookbook." Contact her: www.myitalianmama.com, [email protected]