Tag Archives: Capers

CAPPERI (Capers and caper bushes)


Caper bushes are everywhere in Sicily, growing wild in small crevices on stone walls.

I can remember my father being very excited when he found some caper bushes growing in the crevices of the wall of a very old church called San Giusto in Trieste (the patron saint) – my father never imagined that capers could grow so far north. They grow well in countries around the Mediterranean – Cyprus, Turkey, Greece.

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I prefer to use capers preserved in rock salt rather than in brine – they taste like unadulterated capers rather than capers in vinegar. Salted capers need to be thoroughly rinsed, then soaked for about 30 minutes and rinsed again, but this will depend on the brand of capers – the easiest way to tell if they are still too salty is to taste them and then soak them again. Capers in the vinegar brine impart a particular flavour and are more acceptable in recipes where wine or vinegar is one of the ingredients.

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They are extensively used in Sicilian cooking and Sicilians prefer the smaller capers. Good quality ones come from Salina (one of the Aeolian islands) or Pantelleria (an island, southwest of Sicily and closer to North Africa).

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We now have Australian capers growing on the dry rocky slopes of the River Murray. Some nurseries sell the seeds or plants and they are being grown in some home gardens.

Apparently in some parts of Sicily, it is common to boil the leaves and the young shoots in salty water, then they need to be drained well, dressed with good quality olive oil and lemon juice and eaten as a vegetable.

The caper buds need to be soaked in water for at least 2-3 days (apparently they have some bitter taste, like olives) and then are preserved under salt or under vinegar.

Those of you living in Australia may remember how nasturtium berries used to be pickled in vinegar and called capers – we Italians knew better. Mind you, my family knew nothing about rhubarb. Our neighbours gave us some and we threw away the stalks and boiled the leaves to eat as a vegetable. Fortunately, because they tasted so bad, we did not eat them.

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OLIVE PASTES AND OLIVE JAMS

Olive pastes have been around for a long time and probably Tapanade is the one we know best. This is made of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers, anchovy fillets, and olive oil with the addition of many variations such as mustard, garlic, and being a Provençal dish any of the following herbs common in the South of France – basil, thyme, rosemary and parsley. Olive oil (good quality, extra virgin) is essential. Some add lemon juice, some brandy. Although it is most commonly made with black olives, green olives also make a good paste, very different in taste of course.

Below, Tapanade made with green olives and caper berries.

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Clifford A Wright (Food Historian and author) offers a plausible explanation for why it is called Tapenade:

The caper plant was known as tapeneï in Provençal, and the flower buds, the part of the caper used for culinary purposes, was the tapeno, which were preserved in amphora filled with olive oil since vinegar was not used at that time. The capers became mushed together in the amphoras to form a kind of pâté of crushed tapeno, the ancestor of the modern tapenade. This is why it is today known by the word for caper rather than olives, which is actually, in volume, the greater constituent ingredient. In the second century A.D., vinegar came to be used more in preserving and so too garlic, the great universal medication in the medieval period when the Greek physician Galen’s medical theories were prevalent.

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I have written about Tapenade once before and there is a recipe for tapenade on my blog:

Tapenade and Cauliflower, travelling in the south-west of France

Italians, Spaniards and Greeks also have versions of olive pastes – usually the pastes made in these countries only contain very few ingredients apart from olives and good olive oil, with maybe some herbs or garlic.
Now what about Olive jam?
I think Italians would find this hilarious and as an Italian food purist I was very skeptical. Yet it is no different from having a fruit chutney or a dab of a strong-tasting, thick paste. It is called Camilo Olive Jam.

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It was the sweetness that made me wonder, but the paste still definitely tastes of olives. The ingredients are black olives, salt, apples, Camilo honey, lemons and chilli, sugar (22.8g per 100g).

I am finding the Olive Jam very pleasant ( with cheese, meat and fish) and when I have offered it to friends and they too are as surprisingly delighted  as I am. Who would have thought!!!

 

And for one of my recipes for one way to use Olive Paste with fish:

FISH BALLS IN SALSA – POLPETTE DI PESCE (PURPETTI in Sicilian)

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TAPENADE and cauliflower-Travelling in the South West of France

This cauliflower is ceramic. I remembered I had this photo and chose to use it instead of one of a real cauliflower.  It was one of the many beautiful decorative objects in Le Pont De L’Ouysse Restaurant in the countryside of Lacave, not far from Rocamadour, in the Lot, South West of France.

The restaurant is recommended in Stephanie Alexander’s Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.  I stayed with my partner and two friends in the same converted barn – La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol , a small hamlet in the South West of France.

And all this to tell you about olive Tapenade which I love to eat with steamed cauliflower.

Tapenade made from black olives, mustard, anchovies, capers (some use brandy) comes from Languedoc, further south than the Lot, but the olive tapenade I prefer is from Provence. It is fresh and light and very summery. In the Occitan region in the south of France (Occitan –romance language spoken in southern France), the word for capers is tapéno, hence the name for this popular spread.

I present it with bread but sometimes I accompany it with some vegetable crudities. Raw or steamed cauliflower flowerets are a pleasant addition.

But Tapenade also comes in very handy as a sauce or condiment for simply cooked fish or vegetables, especially steamed cauliflower.

Tapenade is a pesto and traditionally made with a mortar and pestle. I cut my herbs by hand (otherwise they can taste grassy) and then add them to the olives that I have chopped in the food processor.

I also need to give credit to y friend Liz who introduced me to Tapenade as made in Provence, many years ago.

I do not weigh/measure ingredients when I make this but the following works.

INGREDIENTS
pitted olives, 2 cups (I use Kalamata because I like their strong taste)
capers, 2 tablespoons
garlic, 2 cloves crushed
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
lemon juice, 1 lemon
freshly ground pepper, to taste
fresh herbs, cut by hand, 1 cup of each: Italian parsley, thyme, basil (sometimes, I have added marjoram or fresh oregano)
PROCESSES
Place olives crushed garlic in a food processor and chop to a medium grind (I do not like it too smooth).
Cut all the herbs and add them to the olives, add oil lemon and pepper.
Blend again for 5 seconds to mix the ingredients.

Place the tapenade in a sterile jar and cover it with a thin layer of olive oil – keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

It comes in very handy!!

River Ouysse
Bridge destroyed in 1966 (can see this from restaurant)

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BAKED STUFFED TOMATOES – POMODORI RIPIENI (PUMARORI CHINI in Sicilian)

These stuffed tomatoes were cooked by my friends. They are hydroponic tomatoes and I was very surprised to find that they were very flavoursome – in fact, they tasted almost as good as real tomatoes. Of course, the stuffing helped.

I am even more surprised by the quality of the photo, which was taken with my friend’s mobile phone.

I usually never buy hydroponic tomatoes. As it happens, I used not to buy any tomatoes when they were out of season, until those growers in Murray Bridge (South Australia) and Mildura (Victoria) miraculously extended their growing season and arranged transportation to one particular stall in the Queen Victoria Market. We shall probably have to wait for the heirloom varieties and local tomatoes till late December.

Pomodoro is tomato in Italian. Interestingly, they were first called pomo d’oro (meaning golden apples) and apparently tomatoes were yellow when they were first introduced to Europe – it is said to have originated in Central America. Maybe the oro (gold) reflects its golden status in cuisine.

My friends used Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for stuffed tomatoes from Plenty, his latest book.

Ottolenghi has several take–home food shops in London. His cuisine reflects contemporary Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours; I had the pleasure of attending one of his sessions at The Sydney international Food Festival in October this year.

In his recipe he uses a mixture of breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, black olives, capers, oregano, parsley and mint. The tomatoes are baked in olive oil. He calls it a Provincial-style starter and suggests serving them with a little salad of seasonal leaves and a few broken pieces of robust goat’s cheese.

Stuffing tomatoes was one of my childhood tasks therefore Ottolenghi’s recipe bought back many memories. We ate them warm or cold as a contorno or as an antipasto.

Although adding black olives, garlic, grated cheese and anchovies and mint are common regional variations, but my family preferred to keep the flavours simple. Grated cheese, anchovies or black olives (and just one of these ingredients) were only added when the stuffed tomatoes were to accompany a dish of strong flavours for example, a heavily spiced fish stew or sardines, (hence Ottolenghi’s suggestion to present them with some robust goat’s cheese seems appropriate).

INGREDIENTS

tomatoes, firm and ripe, 6 (estimate 1 per person and depending on their size)
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
garlic, 3 cloves, chopped finely
bread crumbs,  1 cup made from fresh 1-3 day bread
parsley, ½  cup , cut finely or fresh basil
oregano, dried, ½ teaspoon, or 1 tablespoon cut finely if fresh
capers, ½ cup, rinsed and soaked, if salted
salt  and freshly ground black pepper

PROCESSES

Cut the tomatoes, into halves. Scoop out the seeds and leave them upside down to drain.
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Sauté the garlic in a little of the oil. Let cool.
Add the sautéed garlic and herbs to the breadcrumbs and mix with some of the oil, seasoning and the capers.
Fill the tomatoes with the mixture but don’t press it down– it will expand as it cooks.
Arrange the stuffed tomatoes in an oiled baking pan and dribble a little olive oil over each.
Bake for about 30 mins, or until the tomatoes are soft and the breadcrumbs are golden.

 

SARSA DI CHIAPPAREDDI (King George Whiting presented with a sauce made with capers and anchovies)

I like to buy local, sustainable fish and my fish vendor tells me that these King George Whiting are from the coastal Gippsland village of Port Welshpool.

The delicate texture of King George Whiting requires careful handling. These fish only need a little cooking, either on a grill or lightly pan-fried over medium to high heat, as I have done in this recipe.

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Usually, I am happy to present the fish just with lemon. However, there may be times when an accompanying sauce for steamed, baked, grilled or fried fish will bring you greater compliments. I particularly like this Sicilian sauce with delicate tasting fish.

The sauce is called sarsa di chiappareddi in Sicilian and it is made with capers and anchovies. The sauce can be made well in advance and therefore can be particularly useful when having guests.

For me it is most essential to use quality, extra virgin, olive oil. This is especially important for cold sauces, – when the cold sauce hits the hot food, the fragrance of the oil will be strongly evident.

I like to use capers that are packed in salt rather than brine. These need to be well rinsed and then soaked for 30-40 minutes to remove the salt. If you are using capers in brine, drain carefully and only use ¼ teaspoon of vinegar.

Use a tall glass or narrow jug or jar.

INGREDIENTS
parsley, ½ cup, cut finely,
wine vinegar, 1 tablespoonful
anchovies, 3-4 cut finely
capers, 1 cup, if using  the salted variety, rinse well and soak to remove salt, as necessary
pepper or chilli flakes, to taste and salt if necessary
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
garlic, 1-2 cloves, finely chopped
PROCESSES
Place the oil and the vinegar together and whip with a fork.
Add all of the other ingredients together and using the fork, mix them together.
Rest the sauce for at least one hour to develop the flavours.

Seafood News

The above recipe and photo were published in the November issue of Seafood News, a small, independent monthly publication dedicated to serving the commercial seafood industry. This Melbourne publication is distributed throughout Australia and reaches all sectors of the industry: markets, fishmongers and some restaurants. The publication will have one of my Sicilian fish recipes per issue. So far I have recipes in Aug-Nov issues.

 

 

CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)

 My relative Corrado lives in Ragusa and he tells me that it is the Feast of San Giorgio (the patron saint of Ragusa).  There are always large festivities for this yearly event and celebrated in Ragusa Ibla on the last Sunday in May. and Corrado and Barbara will take advantage of the warm weather and ride their vespa.

Oggi qui a ibla c’è la festa di San Giorgio, e questa sera scenderò a ibla con la mia vespa e con Barbara. La serata è calda è quasi estate…….”

There is no need for me to describe this event because I found a fabulous little film on YouTube (check link).

‘……non ti saprei dire cosa si mangia in queste occasioni,’ 

Naturally I am always interested in the food, but Corrado disappointed me by telling me that he is not able to tell me what is eaten on these occasions so I will take the opportunity to write about one of my aunt’s favourite ways to cook rabbit:. coniglio a partuisa, a very common way to cook rabbit in this south-eastern part of Sicily.

Coniglio alla stemperata is also a local recipe.

The foto of the cooked rabbit was taken In Zia Niluzza’s kitchen the last time I was in Sicily. Unfortunately the foto does not do it justice; the taste of the rabbit is exceptionally good. As you can see it is cooked in a heavy frypan to allow the juices to evaporate and caramelise.

If it is a wild rabbit,  so to remove the wild taste it is usually soaked in water and vinegar for at least an hour before it is cooked. This will also bleach the flesh.

To make it more visually appealing, I add fresh mint at the time I present it to the table.

INGREDIENTS:

1 rabbit cut into smallish pieces, ½ cup green olives, ½ cup capers, 4 cloves garlic, a few sprigs of mint leaves, 3 bay leaves, 1 glass of red wine mixed with ½ cup of red wine vinegar, ½ cup extra virgin oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Extra mint leaves for decoration.

PROCESSES:

In a large frying pan sauté the rabbit in the hot extra virgin olive oil until golden. Add the seasoning, the olives, garlic, capers and mint.

Reduce the heat, and add the mixture of wine and vinegar gradually while the rabbit is cooking.

If it is a tender rabbit and if it is cut into small enough pieces, the rabbit may be cooked by the time all of the liquid has evaporated. If the rabbit is not as young or as tender as you had hoped, and you feel that it needs to be cooked for longer (this has always been my experience), add a little water, cover with a lid and simmer it gently until it is soft – keep on adding the wine and vinegar. Remove the lid and evaporate the juices. Ensure that the rabbit is that deep golden brown colour when you serve it.

Decorate with fresh mint (for appearance and taste).

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SALSA VERDE ( Green Sauce – serve with boiled meats and corned beef)

My take on corned beef

I have a Brazilian friend who is still discovering the delights of Anglo–Saxon food in our Australian food culture and a true blue, born and bred, Australian friend who misses his mother’s cooking. They are coming to dinner tonight, so as a surprise I am cooking them corned beef (I managed to buy low salt, low saltpetre). Probably I have not eaten this since my English Mother in law last cooked it for me, and she died a long time ago.

Of course there will be the boiled vegetables and mustard. And I will present it with some of the homemade chutney that another friend has given me. But it is so very much like bollito (boiled meat) that it could be accompanied with a little salsa verde on the side – chopped parsley, capers, green olives, boiled eggs, extra virgin olive oil, anchovy and a little white bread with vinegar to thicken it as much as I like and on this occasion I want it thin.

Part of me remains Italian to the core. Will I sauté the carrots in a little onion with dry marsala and raisins?  Or will I present it with sweet and sour pumpkin? ( Sicilian and called FEGATO DI SETTE CANNOLI).

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Of course I will add peppercorns, a carrot, onion and some celery to the beef whilst it cooks, after all this is what I add when I make carne in brodo (meat cooked in broth). I will add the cloves to the broth (Sicilians use cloves in their savoury cooking) but I will not add the malt vinegar or the sugar.

Is it still corned beef?

 

See:  SALSA VERDE (2015)