Capers are a small but distinctive ingredient in Sicilian cooking.
The caper bush grows wild on the Italian Islands of Salina (Aeolian Islands, north of Sicily) and Pantelleria (Strait of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea and summer home of Giorgio Armani).
It is native to the Mediterranean and some parts of Asia.
The tangled and spiny bush produce tight little buds (capers) that must be hand-picked just as they reach the right size. This is an arduous and tricky task as the hard edible tiny buds turn into flowers (short-lived) in the morning and are gone by the afternoon.
Once picked they are dried in the sun, then layered in salt brine in barrels to cure for about a week. After draining they are packed in course sea salt. The taste is slightly astringent and I always rinse them well before using. A typical Sicilian dish (and one of my favorites) using this pungent little bud is Sicilian Caponata.
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, chopped
- Rinse cauliflower, cut into quarters, remove green leaves and core. (Use the greens for Cauliflower Greens and Eggs).
- Separate the cauliflower into small flowerettes.
- Spread on baking sheet, (see Roasted Mashed Cauliflower) drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper
- Roast in a 350* oven for 45 minutes. Cauliflower should be golden and tender.
- In a medium-size bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, capers and chili flakes.
- Mix in the nuts, season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- When the cauliflower is done, toss with the dressing while it is still warm (it absorbs the dressing and becomes full of flavor).
In Sicily, it is considered in poor taste (literally) to drown capers in vinegar. This is thought of as the equivalent to overcooking pasta … quite unthinkable!
I originally served this dish warm, but after refrigerating the leftovers, I tasted it before reheating and decided it’s also very good as a cold side dish, (I actually think it tastes the best at room temperature). Great for picnics and less perishable than a mayo-based salad.