2006-04-03

Capers to Die For

No, I'm not talkin' cozies. I am talking about the one thing always found in my refrigerator: capers.

For those who might be furrowing their brows in confusion, capers (Capparis spinosa) are a wondrous culinary item brought to us from a flowering shrub found in the Mediterranean region. It's known for its edible buds and fruit.

The buds are harvested in the morning immediately before flowering; they are never dried but pickled in oil, brine or vinegar. Less often, capers are preserved by packing in coarse salt. These must be rinsed before usage. And I mean that most sincerely.

Smaller buds (nonpareilles and surfines, both with less than one centimeter diameter) are considered more valuable than the larger capucines and communes (more than 1.5 cm diameter).

Pickled caper fruits (French cornichon de c√Ępres, in English also known as caper berries) are more rarely traded. Their flavour is very intensive, piquant, pungent and wonderful.

Medicinely, capers are said to reduce flatulence and to be anti-rheumatic in effect. In ayurvedeic medicine capers (Capers=Himsra) are recorded as hepatic stimulants and protectors, improving liver function. Capers have reported uses for arteriosclerosis, as diuretics, kidney disinfectants, vermifuges and tonics. Infusions and decoctions from caper root bark have been traditionally used for dropsy, anemia, arthritis and gout. Capers contain considerable amounts of the anti-oxidant bioflavinoid rutin.

I've included a recipe below and links to other recipe sites. I use capers with chicken, with olive oil over pasta and cook them up with my eggs in the morning.

Polenta with Artichoke-Caper Sauce

1 package of polenta mix or make your own (most cookbooks have recipes)
1 onion, chopped (or 1 bunch green onions, chopped)
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
6 artichoke hearts, cut in half (they come frozen here, or you can get them
canned in water)
1 lb. passata (I used fresh roma tomatoes, pureed them skins and all in the
cuisinart and then boiled them down. I didn't strain it because there are so
few seeds in the tomatoes and I like the extra fiber)
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste
6 ounces fat free mozzarella - shredded or sliced
fat free parmesean

Make polenta (omit any fat they call for, it's not necessary) and pour into an 8x8 pan that has been sprayed with PAM. Set aside to cool down. "Saute" onion and garlic in a little water until soft. Add bell peppers, and artichoke hearts, and then pour over passata. Stir to blend.

Add capers, oregano and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn the cooled polenta out onto a cutting board, and cut into bite-sized cubes. Put some of the cooked sauce on the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Place polenta cubes in a layer over the sauce, and then top with the mozzarella. Put the remaining sauce on top of the mozzarella layer and then sprinkle with some parmesean. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.

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