In a nutshell: This fab sauce of capers, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, peperoncini chilli and Extra-Virgin olive oil is brilliant as an impromptu sauce for pasta dishes or simply add a dollop into fish soups and chicken stews.
These Nocella capers come from Salina, a volcanic Aeolian island just north of Sicily, famed for its caper production.
Valued in antiquity for their aphrodisiac qualities, capers have been picked since the ancient Greeks first colonised the Aeolian islands around 580BC. Salina, which takes its name from the now disused saltpans at Lingua on the western tip of the island, is particularly famed for the success of its Nocella and Spinoza varieties. It's said that 95 per cent of all Italian caper production takes place here and on Pantelleria, an Italian island situated just off the coast of Africa.
Once the emerald-green caper buds begin to form they're harvested, along with the small leaves, every week between May and September. Some are left on the bush so that the purple stamens grow into the fruit known locally as cucunci (caperberries) before they open up into flowers - a process that takes about 10 days. They're then salted or pickled.
Known as the 'orchid of the Aeolians', the perennial caper bush has a particularly beautiful flower with pale pink petals. It's best picked at dawn, when the honey bees are less active and its heady scent, similar to honeysuckle, is strongest. Locals use it to flavour grappa and it imparts a wonderful aroma and colour after a few weeks in bottle.
The buds are hand-picked then graded and salted in coarse sea salt, from Trapani in Sicily, in plastic barrels for two months. As the water is drawn out of the capers a brine forms, which has to be stirred by hand two or three times daily.
At the end of this fermentation period, they are drained of all the liquid that is produced. Then, covered in a finer salt they can be left for anything from 6 to 18 months before being sold either in salt or bottled in a mild vinegar. Preserved this way they can keep for several years, and are simply soaked in water before using in a variety of pasta sauces, salads and as a key ingredient in the classic dish vitello tonnato (veal with tuna and caper mayonnaise).
Our capers from the De Lorenzo family are packed in salt or a mild vinegar that does not mask their true flavour. Recognised by the Slow Food Presidium, these superb capers are known for being the best around. Other Mediterranean countries and islands, like the Greek Cycladic islands, also have fantastic capers but there is something very special about Salina capers. Locals say that they are 'piu croccante' (crunchier) and keep their texture in the myriad salads and sauces where they are used on a regular basis.
Every year during the first weekend of June, La Sagra del Cappero erupts on this volcanic and fertile island and everyone goes a little bit crazy under the influence of capers. A band is shipped in from nearby Sicily to play old-fashioned Italian dance classics, children run everywhere and couples snog in dark alleys. This festival celebrates the annual picking season and is well worth attending.
As our friend, Matthew Fort, the esteemed food writer and broadcaster, so rightly said in his book Summer in the Islands, An Italian Odyssey when he revisited the island "Caper-lovers seek them out. Caper connoisseurs swear by them...the capers of Salina reign supreme in the kitchen of most discerning chefs and cooks."
How to use:
- Perfect for an impromptu pasta sauce.
- Lovely stirred into soups.
- As a sandwich spread with salami, tomato and cheese.
Details: 300g jar
About Sapori Eoliani
The de Lorenzo family live and breath caper production in Pollara, the beautiful cliff-top village that featured in the wonderful Il Postino movie. The company is now headed by Maurizia De Lorenzo after the premature death of her son Roberto Rossello, a young entrepreneur of Salina and grandson of Giuseppe De Lorenzo. Alongside the traditional methods of manual processing, Maurizia constantly invests in research and innovation, to improve all her caper production and delicious sauces and dips.