Although they're a key player in the cuisines of Spain, southern France and Italy, they're not mentioned in The Joy Of Cooking or The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook, the white-bread bibles of suburban North American food.
Capers are the small flower buds of a bush that grows in hot European climates. Once picked, they're either cured in salt or pickled in brine like olives, then bottled or turned into a paste sold in tubes.
Capers give an intense, pungent kick to salads, sauces and cooked veggies like steamed artichokes or fava beans. They also make an unusual alternative to cocktail olives in your favourite martini! Here's a garlic-free summery recipe for a Mediterranean-style tomato sauce to be served at room temperature over linguine, barely steamed zucchini slices or spaghetti squash.
In a mixing bowl, combine 11/2 tablespoons each of white vinegar and lemon juice with 3 minced shallots. Slowly add 6 tablespoons of olive oil, whisking until completely blended.
Add 2 tablespoons of drained capers, 4 cups of roughly chopped and seeded plum tomatoes, the cooked kernels of a large ear of corn, 1 cup of chopped arugula leaves, 1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil and a dozen pitted kalamata olives diced into small chunks.
Toss and add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the pasta or squash on a platter and serve with the sauce layered over top, garnished with shaved Parmesan or Asiago.