Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes for cooking with capers

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Capers may be small, but their impact is big. But only after those little olive-green flowerbuds have been pickled in brine or packed in salt. The smaller the caper, the better they are considered to be: nonpareil capers (named after the French for having no equal), are the smallest, and have to be less than 7mm to qualify for that name. As the size of the caper increases, its value diminishes, ranging from surfines (7mm) through to capucines (8-9mm), the widely-available capotes (9-11mm) and fines (11-13mm).

Those differences in size may seem minuscule, but the buds of the Capparis spinosa develop so fast that the bush has to be picked more or less daily. I love to sizzle them in hot oil and watch as the buds magically open like flowers.

Grilled cauliflower ‘steaks’ with tonnato sauce and walnut salsa

It may seem dotty to use just the central part of the cauliflower for this, but the “steaks” need to include the stalk so they stay intact when fried. Don’t waste the rest, though: grate it raw into a salad, say. Serves four as a starter.

2 medium cauliflowers (about 550g each), leaves removed, stalk left intact
2 tbsp olive oil

For the sauce
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp valdespino (or other top-quality sherry) vinegar
60g tinned tuna in oil, drained
10g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 anchovy, roughly chopped
¼ tsp pickled green peppercorns, drained
5g baby (or regular) capers
1 egg yolk

For the salsa
40g walnuts, lightly toasted and roughly broken
10g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp valdespino (or other top-quality sherry) vinegar

20g baby (or regular) capers, patted dry
Salt

First make the sauce. Put the garlic in a small saucepan with both oils and fry very gently on a medium-low heat for about five minutes, until golden-brown and soft. Transfer the cloves to the small bowl of a food processor with the lemon juice, vinegar, tuna, parsley, anchovy, peppercorns, capers and egg yolk, and blitz to a smooth paste. With the motor still running, slowly pour in the warm garlic oil from the pan, until the sauce has the consistency of mayonnaise, then transfer to a bowl, cover with clingfilm and set aside somewhere warm.

To make the salsa, put the walnuts, parsley, two teaspoons of oil, the lemon zest and vinegar in a bowl, and mix to combine. Put a small frying pan on a high heat, add the remaining oil and, once hot, fry the capers for a minute or two, until crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer the capers to a plate lined with kitchen paper; discard the oil.

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. To prepare the cauliflower, put one whole head on a board and cut down from top to bottom on each side of the central stalk, so you end up with a 4cm-thick slice with the florets held together by the stalk (essentially a cross-section of the cauliflower). Cut this in half vertically, to give two 2cm-thick slices weighing about 150g each, then repeat with the second cauliflower.

Put a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and ventilate the kitchen. Lay the cauliflower steaks on a 20cm x 30cm oven tray lined with baking paper and brush with a tablespoon of oil and a pinch of salt. Turn over and repeat with another tablespoon of oil and another pinch of salt. When the grill is hot, griddle the steaks for two minutes (in batches, if necessary), turning them carefully halfway through and taking care they do not break up. Return the steaks to the tray, then roast for 10-12 minutes, until cooked through and golden-brown. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and leave to rest for five to 10 minutes.

To serve, divide the sauce between four plates and top each portion with a slice of cauliflower. Mix the fried capers through the salsa, spoon over the cauliflower and serve.

Marinated aubergine with currants and capers

The idea for this was inspired by the sweet-and-sour Sicilian dish caponata, which I can’t get enough of. I’ve sliced rather than diced the aubergine, because I think it looks more elegant. This is a dish that really benefits from an overnight marinade, but it will still taste glorious if you don’t have the time for that and serve it straight away. Serves four to six, with some fresh crusty bread alongside, for dunking.

3 aubergines, cut into 2cm-thick rounds
Salt
About 220ml sunflower oil
3 celery sticks, cut into 1cm dice
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped into 1cm pieces
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into 1cm dice
2 bay leaves
1 large garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
60ml sherry vinegar
40g currants
¼ tsp saffron threads, soaked in 75ml boiling water
2 tbsp olive oil
15g baby capers (or regular capers, roughly chopped)
15g pine nuts, toasted
5g basil leaves, shredded (or whole baby basil leaves)

Mix the aubergine slices with a teaspoon of salt, put in a colander for about an hour to extract some of the moisture, then pat dry.

Heat a third of the sunflower oil in a large saute pan on a medium flame and, once hot, fry a third of the aubergine slices for about 15 minutes, turning them once halfway through, until dark brown all over. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked aubergines to a plate lined with kitchen paper and repeat with the remaining aubergines and oil.

Remove all but three tablespoons of oil from the pan, return to the heat and fry the celery, onion, pepper, bay leaves and a third of a teaspoon of salt for 12 minutes, stirring a few times and adding the garlic after about 10 minutes; the vegetables should be golden-brown and soft. Add the vinegar, currants, saffron and its soaking liquid and the olive oil, stir through for a minute, then take off the heat and carefully stir in the aubergines, so the slices get covered in sauce but do not break up. Tip into a medium bowl, leave to cool, then cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate overnight at room temperature.

To serve, arrange the aubergine slices on a platter, spoon over the sauce and sprinkle with the capers, pine nuts and basil.

Braised oxtail and celeriac with capers and lemon

Yotam Ottolenghi’s braised oxtail and celeriac with capers and lemon. Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay

The meat will be tender after three hours’ cooking, but some of it may not easily fall off the bone. This is due to the tendons, but is no cause for concern: it will just need a bit more effort to remove from the bone, that’s all. Serves four.

1.5kg oxtail pieces
60ml olive oil
Salt and black pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled
10g thyme
2 bay leaves
30g capers
Shaved skin of 1 lemon
500ml chicken stock
1 celeriac, peeled and cut into 8 long wedges

For the salsa
20g parsley leaves
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon, plus 2 tsp lemon juice
10g capers, roughly crushed with the flat of a large knife

In a large bowl, mix the oxtail, two tablespoons of oil, a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of pepper. Put a large casserole pot for which you have a lid on a high heat and, once hot, sear the oxtail (in batches, if need be) for about eight minutes, turning occasionally, until dark golden brown all over. Add the garlic, thyme, bay, capers, lemon peel, stock and 500ml water, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low, skim the surface of any impurities, cover the pot and simmer for about three hours, until the meat is tender.

About half an hour before the oxtail is ready, prepare the celeriac. Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Put the celeriac in a large 30cm x 25cm ceramic oven dish with two tablespoons of oil, half a teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper. Mix to coat, then roast for 30 minutes, until soft and dark brown around the edges, then remove from the oven (leave the oven on).

Lift the oxtail out of the pot, return the uncovered pan to a medium-high heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the liquid reduces and thickens. In the meantime, pull the meat off the bones and return to the cooking juices; discard the bones. Stir to coat, then spoon all over the celeriac and bake for 20 minutes, until the meat has browned on top and the sauce thickened. Meanwhile, mix together all the salsa ingredients.

Serve two wedges of celeriac per portion, and top with some of the meat and a sprinkling of the salsa.

This article was sourced from http://newsquizpodcast.com