Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Pickle Passport: The Great Pickle Girl Caper

(Local capers, Locorotondo market, Puglia)

We are back! Albeit it 10 pounds heavier, 30 gallons of olive oil richer, and countless Euros poorer! But life is short, and the pickle adventures must go on.

I am beholding the spoils—jars of capers, anchovies, lampascioni—spread out on my kitchen counter as a kaleidoscopic still life in the trippy fog that is jet lag. (Not to be outdone by the piles of handmade orecchiette and strozzapreti, dried IGP Basilicatan chiles, and ceci nero, Italy's elusive black chick peas.)

pickle girl embarked on some serious recon of all things preserved and pickled in the 1500 miles we drove between Italy’s stiletto heel and the big toe that teases Sicily. I couldn’t wait to share this with you!

This first installment takes us to Puglia, the beginning of our journey. Consider this my homage to the humble caper. "Caper" is really the name for the Capparis spinosa bush that bears a white flower whose bud is harvested and pickled before it opens.

Puglia's capers are small, tight buds preserved in coarse salt or brine. The salt is local too--a specialty of Margherita di Savoia, Europe's largest salt beds at 75 square kilometers.

The behemoth capers with long stems often associated with southern Italy are technically caperberries, the fruit the flower bears if the bud is left on the bush. These can be found in Calabria, but, we'll get to that later, pickle friends.

My favorite use of these pickles was when they were fried in olive oil to garnish the coast's famous grilled fish. Frying capers forces open the bud to make a tiny, salty flower that is a beautiful, crunchy foil to the flaky fish.