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The Vegetarian

Tiny Capers Enliven Soups, Sauces

July 21, 1988|DIANA SHAW | Shaw is a free-lance writer in Los Angeles.

The greatest drawback to being a food writer, I have found, is that people expect me to know something about food, often something I don't happen to know.

At a recent dinner party, for example, a guest had a question about capers: "What are they?" In response, I spooned out a peppercorn-sized bead from the salad. "I mean what are they made of?" he insisted. "Where do they come from?" The room fell silent while I backed toward my culinary encyclopedia to look it up.

The caper is the unopened bud of the caper tree, a shrub that made its way to ancient Rome by way of the Sahara. Tart and tangy, capers are meant to be used sparingly to enliven sauces and salads. I like to toss them into ratatouille and tomato-based pasta dishes, as well as use them as follows.

CHERRY TOMATO SALAD

4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons capers

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, cut into thin strips

1 tablespoon fresh basil, cut into thin strips

Freshly ground pepper

1 pound mozzarella cheese, diced

Combine cherry tomatoes, olive oil, capers, oregano, basil, pepper to taste and cheese in large ceramic mixing bowl. Toss well and chill 1 hour. Toss again and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

COLD PEPPERS WITH CAPERS

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed and minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced

1 green pepper, thinly sliced

1 orange or yellow pepper, thinly sliced

2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon capers

1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled

Freshly ground pepper

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is tender. Add red, green and yellow peppers. Continue to saute until peppers are tender. Add vinegar and capers, and cook, stirring, 3 minutes more.

Remove from heat; transfer to glass or ceramic bowl. Add basil. Season to taste with pepper. Stir well and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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