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.
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.
2 tablespoons salt
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)