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Kinky capers: nasturtium buds.

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The buds
McG has a tiny little market that starts at 8.45am on a Saturday and is over by 9.45am. It could do with some pep and finesse, however I’ve learned to swerve the urge to fix. The other day there wasn’t much on offer – but I was intrigued by a jar of nasturtium capers. I’ve had the flower in salads and, as kids, we used to gather a drop of water in the leaves and pretend it was a magical diamond: the foliage has some sort of coating that makes water pool and reflect. But I have never eaten the leaf or buds.

Real capers are the flower of the caper plant: Capparis Spinosa. And the large seed pod is called the caper berry.  They are beloved of Italians and appear in many of my favourite dishes – Vitello Tonnato, Spaghetti Puttanesca and Caponata spring most immediately to mind. I had them deep-fried once as bar snack: salty, crisp, bitter, moreish… oh man, pour me another glass. Nasturtium seed pods look just like Spinosa buds – and taste similar: sweet, sour-crunchy, tart and a little bit bitter .

I was back up in McG over the weekend, trying to get the house renovations damn-finished. My relationship with the build feels like that point in a love affair when you know there’s nothing left to keep you, you should be moving on, but somehow you’re in a holding pattern. And would somebody just end the damn thing right now please?

On Sunday night I went to my neighbours Rob and Natasha for a couple of excellent mojitos. Which were accompanied by toasted almonds and pecan nuts, locally sourced: and garlic olives Natasha had picked, brined, brined, brined and oiled herself. Frankly it’s easier to buy preserved olives ready-made, but she said once she started she couldn’t stop. They were  worth it: delicious plump, purple and oozy. When I got home, I still had lots of watering to do on our roll-on lawn and I needed something to keep me awake: so I decided to break out the capers and see where they would fit in with the odds and sods in the fridge.

Like pros, as it turned out.

The plant

I plonked them on top of toasted olive ciabatta with cream cheese, some tiny sundried tomatoes (also from the market) in their oil, a squeeze of lemon with a twist of pepper. They’re a fruitier, crispier take on regular capers and would be fantastic with salty meats like salame or cured hams. I also had a couple of boiled potatoes left over from dinner with the nans: I halved those, blanketed them in grated pecorino mixed with a few pinches of dukkha – and topped it all with a splash of green olive oil. Added some lettuce leaves, a small chunk of parmesan, sweet corn kernels dressed a lemon vinaigrette, poured a glass of white wine and I was a happy waterer.

I know that nasturtiums grow wildly in LA, Australia, Asia, NZ and SA, so I called the woman who had pickled them and asked if she would share the recipe? “Sure” she said; “long as you come buy a couple more bottles next time you are in town.  And I’m doing pickled carrots for Christmas.”  “Wouldn’t miss them for the world” I promised.

If you have nasturtiums in the garden: you will find the pods hidden under the foliage – where they develop in clusters of three. Pick them while they are young and fresh – the mature ones are yellowish and the seed in the pod become tough and hard to swallow. Bit like me really.

Pickled Nasturtium Capers

2 tablespoons salt
1-cup water
½ cup green nasturtium seed pods
¾ cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
2 three-inch springs fresh thyme

Bring the salt and water to the boil in a small saucepan
Put the nasturtium seed pods in a half-pint glass jar and pour the boiling brine over them
Cover and let them soak at room temperature for three days

Drain the pods in s fine sieve and return to the jar
Bring the vinegar, sugar, bay leaf/leaves and thyme to the boil in a small saucepan
Pour the boiling vinegar mix over the seed pods and let cool
Cover the jar and refrigerate for three days before using.

They will keep for 6 months in the fridge if covered by the vinegar.The capers would be great, unexpected additions to mixed green salads or a fresh Asian cole slaw. And after a last mouthful – I can promise are just as delicious on their own with cheese.

(Mrs Pickle told me she adapted this recipe from something she read in a cookbook. The closest match I could find was The Herbfarm Cookbook (Scribner 2000). So thanks to Jerry Traunfeld: inspired forager, chef and writer. All images copyright campari&sofa)

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One Comment

  1. Not like you at all young lady! but know what you mean re the house – my June move in date is unlikely to be November at this rate. Nightmare xxx

    November 14, 2013

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