1 Jar of Capers, 5 Dinners

There are tales of lore which mention the glory of these buds dating back to biblical times.
04/02/2014 09:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where Food52 will show you how to stretch your staples every which way.

Today: Melina Hammer of Licking the Plate demystifies the caper -- then uses them in (almost) every meal. 

For me, capers used to contain a certain mystery; they felt sophisticated and foreign. Maybe it was because capers are exotic -- they are the pickled, unripened flower buds harvested from a prickly shrub in the Mediterranean. Or maybe it's because of their legacy: There are tales of lore which mention the glory of these buds dating back to biblical times.

The only way I knew to use them was within my family's tradition of lox and bagels -- still a great use -- but now I incorporate them into all kinds of things. Whenever I'm in the mood for something a little lemony-sour, earthy, and texturally meaty, a small handful of capers does the job. Use salt-packed if you can (they have better flavor), and soak them in water for several minutes before using. Drain the capers, pat them dry, and add some to your next meal -- here are five ways to do it. 

Olive Oil-Dressed Potato Salad with Smoked Paprika and Capers

This riff on potato salad allows the butteriness of potatoes to shine, and the assertive crunch from the celery -- along with the plump, briny capers -- offers a great textural foil. Boil or steam diced potatoes (I used waxy yellows and sweet reds) until fork-tender, drain, and put into a large bowl. Add very thinly sliced red onion and diced celery. Toss in a handful of capers. The dressing is simply good olive oil, a spoonful of grainy mustard, a bit of sherry vinegar, and a teaspoon or so of smoked paprika. Add some cracked black pepper and you're done. Eat this warm right out of the mixing bowl, or at room temperature if you can restrain yourself.

Pasta Puttanesca

A pantry standby, this recipe proves that good eating is still possible when you have nothing in the fridge. Start with some chopped garlic fried in a sauté pan, along with a few anchovies and some olives (I used a mixture of Kalamata and wrinkly black olives). Then add a can of tomatoes and some red pepper flakes. Finish with a scatter of capers, cook the mixture until bubbly and saucy, and serve over your favorite pasta.

Fried Capers on Salmon-Avocado Toasts

Pan-fry wild salmon filets until golden. Slather toast with ripe avocado, sprinkle on a little crushed red pepper, and top with the slightly broken up filets. In the same pan you used for the salmon, heat olive oil and fry the capers until the buds open and become crispy, just a few minutes. Add the capers to the toasts and dig in. It's the best quick meal or hearty snack ever.

Cannellini Beans and Farro with Herbs and Capers

Toss cooked beans with equal parts cooked farro. Zest and juice a lemon, and add it to the farro and beans along with some fresh parsley and thyme. Crack some black pepper, add a glug of good olive oil, and throw in a handful of capers. A bright, tangy cheese like feta or fresh asiago makes a nice accompaniment to this dish, as does a garnish of toasted almonds or walnuts. 

This salad is a winning combination of bitter, buttery, sweet, and lemony zing, finished by the bright roundness of the dressing. I'm not a true bitter-loving girl and this salad made me want seconds. And thirds.

Serves two

1 head radicchio

2 free-range eggs, hard-boiled and chopped

1 shallot, minced

1 handful hazelnuts

1 handful capers, soaked and patted dry

1 spoonful grain mustard

1 spoonful honey

Sherry vinegar and good olive oil

  1. Lightly toast the hazelnuts for a few minutes, then place them between layers of parchment paper and wipe them of their skins. You may want to do this in rounds as some will release easier than others. Discard the skins from the paper to keep things tidy as you go.
  2. Gently crush nuts by pressing on them with the flat side of a knife. Toast hazelnuts again until they become fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Whisk together the minced shallot, mustard, honey, vinegar, and a glug of olive oil. Taste as you add the vinegar, first adding a just a spoonful and then more as needed. Adjust to your taste.
  4. Cut radicchio into wedges and stagger on plates.
  5. Top with crumbled egg, then the hazelnuts and capers. Dress with vinaigrette and enjoy

Photos by Melina Hammer

This article originally appeared on Food52.com: 1 Jar of Capers, 5 Dinners

Food52 is a community for people who love food and cooking. Follow them at Food52.com -- and check out their new kitchen and home shop, Provisions.