Thursday, April 26, 2012

the great sauce caper

caper, n.
1.     to leap or skip about in a sprightly manner; prance; frisk; gambol.
2.     a prank or trick; harebrained escapade.
3.     a frivolous, carefree episode or activity.
4.     a spiny shrub, Capparis spinosa,  of Mediterranean regions, having roundish leaves and solitary white flowers.
5.     its flower bud which is pickled and used for garnish or seasoning.

This one is a lulu, piquant and snappy and as useful as a little black dress.  You could dip into it with a vegetable, you could smear it on anything grilled, broiled or just standing still, you could rocket a potato or chicken salad to the moon with it.

It comes from one of my favorite and most splattered cookbooks, Jerry Traunfeld’s Herbfarm Cookbook.  His polenta is my standard for polenta.  His sensibilities make my tastebuds very happy.  He avoids the traditional sprinkle of fresh herbs, tending more toward the fistful, but manages to make the results still subtle and interesting and not at all overdone.  

In case the Full Disclosure Police are reading, I should volunteer the information that I once made his lavender shortbread cookies and served them at a ladies’ function with a gooseberry fool and felt I had carried myself pretty well, until the lady to my left said they reminded her of her grandmother’s bath soap and fed them to her dog, who was under the table, handing him her dish of fool to go with it.  I don’t hang with ladies much anymore.  Very stressful.  All those manners and white gloves.

The only modification I made here was to use a chunk of preserved lemon in place of the lemon zest his recipe called for.  But I have made it his way and it totally rocks like that, too, so if you lack preserved lemons do not fret.  Heed his warning about using tender stems of parsley only, because the thicker stems have too potent a flavor here.

If your food processor has suddenly died, gasping wildly as you tried to use it and then stubbornly refusing to budge its upper grinders while grating its interior gaskets into little piles on the counter top underneath the machine (or is it just me?), then rest assured you can do this in the blender or with a hand blender—just add the oil up front so you have enough substance to make the ingredients move.  It will all emulsify fine.

green herb and caper sauce
Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld’s Herbfarm Cookbook

1 ½ cups (gently packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems
½ cup (gently packed) fresh mint leaves
½ cup coarsely-snipped chives or the green parts of a scallion
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 t Dijon mustard
4 anchovy filets
2 T capers, drained
a small chunk of preserved lemon, or the zest of ½ a lemon, finely grated
1 T fresh lemon juice
a few twists of fresh black pepper
6T olive oil

Process all the ingredients except the oil in a food processor until they are finely chopped.  Scrape down the sides.  With the machine running, pour in the oil in a steady stream and continue to process until the sauce is slightly creamy but not completely smooth. 


  1. The lady sitting next to you feeding your cookies to the dog reminds me of the story Beverly Cleary told to a blogger when asked for a reminiscence of winning the Newbery. You expect satisfaction, happiness, fulfillment, and tears, right? Winning the Newbery! Fun! But no. Cleary overheard a librarian standing next to her at the ceremony saying she didn't deserve to win. Rules for living: know who is listening when you speak. Never feed the cookies to the dog. Pack the mint gently. Eat more capers.

    1. In total agreement with these guidelines. Reserve the right to save cookies to give the dog later, though.

  2. I suppose if your name is not Traunfeld, you might call this a salsa verde. I like mine on roasted fish or grilled meats, or as a dip for vegetables.

    1. In his defense, even thus christened, that is exactly what he called it, with this subtitle. I didn't include both names, because 'salsa verde' makes me think of tomatillos and not Italy.


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