Piquant buds of the Mediterranean – capers

Nature reflects the start of the summer season differently in every corner of the world, while summer in the Mediterranean kicks off with caper harvest. From late May and almost all summer long wild bushes bear flower buds which, when conserved, acquire that unique piquant flavour we so very often associate with capers. Wild bushes thrive in the very south of Dalmatia, especially in islands and rocky area, i.e. cracks in rocks.

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Capers are picked while the bud are still closed and they’re never prepared raw. They’re always conserved either by immersing in sea water, cure mixture, vinegar or dry salt. Capers which have been conserved in such a manner have become an integral part of numerous well-known dishes or side dishes such as steak tartare or Tartar sauce. The potent flavour of capers gives every dish an authentic feel and that’s precisely why it’s used in preparing salads, sauces, meat and fish marinades, casseroles, sandwiches, tapenades and other dishes. Aromatic capers will give any dish a dash of that Mediterranean vibe. Though only conserved capers are used most commonly, they can be fried, which will intensify their flavour and accentuate a different texture. Fried capers are often used in salads or with fish.

Culinary tales of Croatian islands are attracting ever larger numbers of foodies and lovers of authentic local flavours. When it comes to gastronomy, the island is Pag is without a doubt one of the most prominent islands. Apart from quite a few autochthonous products such as Pag cheese and lamb, the island offers phenomenal wines, aromatic Mediterranean herbs and conceals magical culinary destinations. The picturesque Tavern Didova kuća is situated in a fragrant bay in the town of Šimuni. Being an interesting culinary blend of Istria, the Croatian Littoral and Dalmatia, tavern Didova kuća will blow your mind primarily with its high-quality local ingredients and authentic dishes, while capers are one of the ingredients restaurant owner and head chef Gordana Fabijanić likes to call their “left and right hand”.Image author: Thinkstock

- Capers are the ultimate Mediterranean ingredient that go with just about anything. There are no capers in Pag, but the islands of southern Dalmatia abound in caper bushes so people pick and conserve them. We use capers to prepare a salted sardine, olive and caper pâté, then we add them to smoked and marinated fish, we make a samphire, caper, salted anchovy and black olive salad. We prepare monkfish tail in white wine with capers and serve it with black gnocchi, we serve veal with Pag sage and Posedarje prosciutto with a sauce made from white wine, capers and a bit of parsley, but sea makaruni is definitely one on the must-have specialties. Makaruni is a Dalmatian name for hollow pasta or šurlice. They make them on their own at the tavern using a needle, while the sea sauce is the true essence of the sea. We sauté calamari, Adriatic prawns, Novigrad mussels in olive oil and in the end we add samphire from Pag, capers, smoked fish, Pošip and black olives. We cook the makaruni separately, but we finish them off in the sea sauce.

Sustainable gastronomy is the basic concept at restaurant SheBio bistro & bar in Šibenik. Their menu features only dishes prepared using ingredients from local family farms with the menu being altered according to season and available ingredients. Being an indispensible Dalmatian ingredient, capers have found their place in a dish that has almost faded into oblivion. Chef Toni Radovčić shared with us how they go about preparing it.

- Given that a Dalmatian through and through, my philosophy boils down to simplicity above all else. Capers are a wonderful ingredient that can be prepared to countless recipes. Capers are featured in our current menu in the Dalmatian salad, an almost forgotten dish that used to be prepared when food was scarce. In order to prepare the Dalmatian salad, first we have to cook diced potatoes, then we slice some red onion halves, chop some parsley, add capers, salt, pepper, olive oil and stir all the ingredients prior to serving the dish.Image author: Thinkstock

Given that islands in the Split maritime zone are renowned for caper bushes, we went to Split with the explicit goal of checking out what restaurants have to offer as far as capers are concerned. At the rather new and colourful restaurant Artičok in Split you can relish contemporary interpretations of Dalmatian cuisine rolled out by Duje Kanajet, a young head chef who’s this year’s young talent of the year as selected by the French guide Gault & Millau, while restaurant Artičok has been listed in their guide. Caper bushes are an everyday sight in southern Dalmatia so their inclusion in menus is only logical. At Artičok you can try them in a white prawn and caper risotto. Duje shared with us some details regarding the preparation.

- We use capers in different salads, carpaccio, risottos. Capers have been a traditional ingredient of Dalmatian cuisine throughout history. We also prepare them in polenta which is served as a side dish with broths or goulash, while the prawn and caper risotto has been on the menu the longest. The risotto is prepared as a classic white risotto with white wine, garlic, parsley, fish stock, rice and capers. The risotto is finished off with Parmesan cheese and butter.Image author: Thinkstock

Taking into consideration that capers are a rarity indeed due to limited production capacity and the increasing demand from restaurants, if you manage to get your hands on a homemade jar of capers, bear in mind just how valuable it is.