Sincerely, Loree is a lifestyle blog that focuses on travel, books, culture, fashion and slow living on the small Mediterranean island of Malta.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Kitchen tales: Cooking with capers

The caper plant (Capparis spinosa) is a very common sight around the Mediterranean. It is highly adapted to the  Mediterranean climate and withstands temperatures of 40°C easily. Here in Malta, the bushes grow out of all sorts of nooks and crannies, in areas of garigue, from cliff-faces and even out of limestone ramparts and bastions, from where it is often removed to prevent structural damage to the fortifications.



From mid-May, capers (edible flower buds) start to form on the caper bushes and it is a common sight at this time of year to see people picking the tiny buds. This was something I used to do myself when I was young,  going to secret places with my dad to scour the bushes and deftly pick the little buds before they turn into flowers. I had written a rather nostalgic post about this, When The  Capers Bloom, on my old blog about Malta. Back when I was growing up, and for a long time after that, the only capers my mum used in her cooking were all hand-picked by members of the family, although some people picked enough to have some extra jars to sell.


I was only ever involved in the picking. The pickling process was usually my dad's job. Pickling is done in salt or in a salt and vinegar mixture. Apart from the caper buds, caper berries that form from the flowers are also edible. Whereas the buds are rounded in shape, the berries have a more elongated, conical appearance. They taste more or less the same but the  berries are denser in texture. Nowadays, people still pick capers and pickle them for their personal use but jars of capers are a staple product on all supermarket shelves. Most commercially produced capers are grown in Spain, Southern Italy,  Morocco and Greece.
The caper berry is the bright green tip growing out of the flower

I thought it would be fun to share a few family recipes that use capers with you but you can also search on the Internet and will be rewarded with many more,

My first recipe is from my mother and it is for a red tomato sauce to use with spaghetti.

Tomato and Caper Sauce 
2 cans tomatoes or tomato pulp (400 grams or 400ml each) 
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
12 chopped olives (black and green)
1.5 tablespoons capers
2 cans tuna in oil (160 grams each) 
1 teaspoon dried basil or oregano (or both)
salt to taste (about a teaspoon)
pepper to taste
fresh mint or basil

1. Fry the garlic in a little olive oil.
2. Remove from heat and add the tomato sauce (take care of splattering from the hot oil) and sugar in a pot and bring to boil.
3. Add the olives, capers and dry herbs and cook for a few minutes.
4. Add the tuna (drain 1 can from the oil but add the other can completely).
5. Add salt and pepper.
6. Cook for a few more minutes on a low flame.
7. Before serving with spaghetti, add the fresh mint or basil.

The next recipe is also for a tomato sauce but this is served with fish such as swordfish or dorado (known locally as lampuki). This recipe was given to me by my husband's aunt, Spira, but a version of it exists in every household.

Caper sauce
1 can tomato pulp (400g)
1.5 tablespoons capers
5 or 6 garlic cloves, crushed or sliced
1.5 tablespoons olives
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh mint and marjoram

1. Fry the garlic in some olive oil for 2 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and add tomato pulp (take care of splattering from the hot oil).
3. Add the capers and olives and salt and pepper, to taste.
4. Cook for 10 minutes.
5. Add fresh mint and marjoram prior to serving.

Some recipes include one green pepper that is fried until soft prior to the addition of the garlic. 

Red pepper flakes may be added to both recipes to give them some extra heat.

I hope you enjoyed reading about capers and their use in local recipes. Are you familiar with capers and would you cook with them?

8 comments:

Kayni said...

I love capers, but I've only seen the pickled version in groceries here. It's my first time to see what the plant looks like, and I have to say the flowers are very pretty. They look similar to passion fruit flowers.

Thank you for the recipe. I might give them a try.

Parnassus said...

Hello Loree, My mother makes chicken piccata with capers, which is very delicious. I was able to find capers in Taiwan (imported from France, but country of origin unclear--the jar just says processed in Belgium). I have an idea for chicken stir-fry piccata, to suit Chinese cooking style, but have not done so yet. It is now almost 40C in my apartment, so at the moment I do not feel like frying things!
--Jim

Mary said...

I had no idea they grew like that Loree, and so pretty when they do flower. I do like the pickled capers in several recipes I make, and always keep a jar handy in the fridge.

Now I know that you actually grew up in Malta! I was never certain of that. Lovely that you have memories of gathering those little buds with your dad.
Mary -

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Beautiful flower.
I knew nothing about capers other than the are edible until reading your post. I don't recall ever cooking with them. Thank you for the recipes. It will be nice to try something new.

La Contessa said...

OH, YOU RAN WITH MY IDEA AND I CANNOT THANK YOU ENOUGH!
WHAT A TREAT TO SEE THE FLOWER AND THE PLANT!I RECALL MY ITALIAN TELLING ME HOW THEY GREW ALL OVER CAPRI!
SO the secret of THE SUGAR has been released!I WILL TRY BOTH RECIPES...........LOVE CAPERS ONLY HAD STORE BOUGHT BUT TUNA PASTA IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES AND THIS IS SO EASY!
I will give YOU A FULL REPORT WHEN EATEN...............GRAZIE!!!
XX

Pipistrello said...

Oh, I love capers and would use them in every dish if I could! Pickled and salted both get a whirl from me. When I was in Antiparos in Greece a couple of years ago, they were everywhere. I'd never seen them in the flesh like that and the blossoms were beautiful. Capers and caperberries were on the menu in the restaurants, and even pickled leaves! Your recipes sound delicious - I'm guessing the use of mint is a Maltese flavour?

Debbie Nolan said...

Loree I have never seen a caper plant before. What a truly lovely flower. As far as I know I have never eaten one either. Using tomato sauce and capers sounds like a delicious mix. Just not sure where I would find them in Ohio. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and recipes of this interesting herb/flower. Hope all is well with you and yours. Take care - Hugs!

La Contessa said...

TO DEBBIE NOLAN........they come in jars.YOU MUST HAVE CAPERS!!!!!!!!!!

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