Capers: Tiny, but flavorful
Native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, capers are the unripened flower buds of Capparis spinosa, a prickly, perennial plant. They are mentioned often in biblical stories, as their use dates back to 3000 B.C.In modern times capers are considered a luxury food. They tend to be pricey, as the buds are harvested by hand. After the harvest, the capers are dried in the sun, then pickled in vinegar, brine, wine or salt. The curing brings out their tangy lemony flavor, much the same as green olives. Consequently, just a few capers will pack a powerful punch as a seasoning.”Capers are a staple in Provence, in the south of France,” said Armando Navarro, executive chef at Larkspur Restaurant. “The flavor pairs well with all types of fish, whether in a lemon butter sauce or spicy tapenade.”Capers are essential to two classic French sauces: the spicy Sauce Ravigote, based on herbs, onion, and capers, and Sauce Rmoulade, always served chilled, made with mustard, mayonnaise, gherkins, herbs, and capers. Like other Mediterranean foods, capers have strong health benefits. They have anti-oxidant properties and have been used for centuries to ease inflammation of the joints.Capers are perfect as an impromptu seasoning. Blend with mayonnaise for a zesty sandwich spread, give a lift to your favorite vinaigrette, or toss into a marinara sauce. Try adding capers to your meatloaf recipe or a mustard cream sauce for pork. Use these easy recipes and seasoning ideas to spice up your mealtime routine.Olive caper tapenade1/2 pound black olives, drained and pitted1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste2 Tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed1 clove garlic, crushed1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper1/4 teaspoon lemon zest1/8 teaspoon dried thyme4 tablespoons olive oilPlace all ingredients except olive oil in food processor and pulse until a paste just begins to form. While pulsing, add olive oil in a steady stream and continue pulsing to combine, but still retain a coarse-grained texture. Chill for a few hours before serving. Makes 6 servings.Lemon caper butter sauce2 teaspoon capers, drained and rinsed4 Tablespoons butter1 small clove garlic, finely minced2 Tablespoons lemon juice1 teaspoon lemon zest 1 Tablespoon parsley, choppedIn a small skillet, melt butter; add garlic, lemon juice, zest, and capers. Simmer over low heat for about 30 seconds. Stir in parsley. Remove from heat. Drizzle over cooked fish or chicken. Orzo with tomatoes, spinach and capers2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved1 cup fresh spinach, chiffonade1 garlic clove, minced1 cup orzo2 cups chicken broth2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme2 teaspoons capers, drained and finely chopped1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese1 tablespoon grated lemon zest1/4 teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepperIn a saut pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook until the tomatoes are tender, about three minutes. Set aside.In a large saucepan, combine the orzo and chicken stock over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the pasta is tender, about seven minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, about three minutes.Add the spinach, thyme, capers, pine nuts, cheese, lemon zest, salt and pepper and toss gently to mix. Add the tomato mixture and toss until all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Spoon the pasta into warmed individual bowls and serve immediately. Serves 2.Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur (larkspurvail.com), at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale (avondalerestaurant.com) opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa and features a West Coast-inspired, market-driven menu.