Don't ever dare to mention pickled capers to a real foodie, the vinegar changes their flavour entirely. Capers must be preserved with salt. The smallest capers, not much larger than the size of a pinhead, are the most sought-after as their flavour is more intense and their aroma takes on characteristic mustardy grassy notes.
Both the flower buds, known as "capers", and the fruit, or "caper berries", of the caper bush are edible. The caper bush thrives in hot, sunny climates and in dry stone walls where it grows out through the stones, which is why the best capers are harvested in the Liguria region, or the Aeolian Islands.
With these basic concepts in mind, you can start to play around with pairing. Here we have a number of delicious capers food pairings, with tips on how to combine the flavour of this ingredient with other food in the preparation of some amazing dishes.
With tomatoes. Capers are used to make a variety of different sauces, either to stir in with spaghetti or to spread over a pizza base. They are often accompanied by olives.
With tuna and anchovies. This calls for a mention of the delicious tuna-flavoured sauce served over a top round of vitello tonnato, a Northern Italian classic.
With fish. Here, capers introduce a briny note and give more character to fish dishes. When served with smoked salmon, they help to cut through the fatty note.
With aubergine and bell peppers. A prime example is Sicilian caponata, a salad of cooked vegetables, where capers play a central role.
With lemon and all citrus notes.
Capers ice cream: although it isn't a pairing, strictly speaking, sometimes it can be interesting to play around with textures and temperatures.
Capers and liquorice: the mustardy flavour of the caper paired with the anethole in the liquorice balance each other out.
Annurca apple and capers: the vanilla sweetness of the apple enhances the savouriness of the flower buds.
Capers and beetroot: the acidic undertones of the caper go beautifully with the beetroot's sugary flavour.
Capers and goat's cheese: this pairing doesn't work by enhancing the two ingredients through contrast, but rather by revealing their likeness in flavours. The key to this winning combination lies in the presence of an acid in the cheese, which gives flavour to the capers. This is capric acid, which occurs naturally in small amounts in goat's cheese. When capers are paired with soft goat's cheese, you will see how they really bring out the flavour of the cheese and increase its intensity.
Top chef pairings
Many high-profile chefs are intrigued by this tiny ingredient, which despite its size, can pack quite a punch in any dish in need of a lift, from Martha Stewart's simple yet delicious recipe, sautéed chicken breast with capers, to those devised by award-winning chefs. It was they who discovered that if you toast capers in the oven, or more simply in a non-stick frying pan, both their aroma and flavour take on a roasted note, like that of coffee or hazelnuts. When toasted and ground into a powder, they can be used to breathe new life into the blandest of flavours.
As a matter of fact, Massimiliano Alajmo started off with a dish that would later become his signature: white risotto with coffee powder and Pantelleria capers. In the family-owned restaurant, La Montecchia, in the foothills of the Euganean Hills, Aljamo serves this ingredient as part of an Italian vegan dish. The 2018 version of this dish is called Cordon Vert: the caper leaf is used as the filling for the aubergine, with black olives, bunches of oregano and torn strips of mozzarella. Once coated in puffed corn, the aubergine is browned in extra virgin olive oil. It is served with an eggless mayonnaise made with water, almonds, oil and fresh herbs.
Pastry chef Ernst Knam used capers to make a praline of white chocolate, coconut, Pantelleria capers and lemon.
They are also a key ingredient in the Roca brothers' (El Cellar de Can Roca) steak tartare, which they serve with mustard ice cream and caper and lemon preserve.
Meanwhile, in Redzepi and Kristian Baumann's recently opened restaurant 108 in Copenhagen, capers are used in the sense of flower buds, and are in fact elderflower buds; take the beef ribs with grilled onions, smoked butter and elderflower capers.
What about wine?
Wherever there is a distinctive flavour of capers, pair with a good glass of Verdicchio di Matelica or Vermentino di Sardegna; these two varieties of grape cope well with and enhance the little bud's characteristic Mediterranean savouriness.