How to make Nasturtium Capers

When we were in Sicily this summer, one of the ingredients which I found in the market of Ortigia was capers. The region, and especially the island of Pantelleria, is famous for these little preserved flower buds, and they appear in many of Sicily’s traditional dishes. I love the saltiness of them, the way they bring a real punch to dishes. Back here in the UK, we can get capers in the shops, but they’re not nearly as good as those from the Ortigian market.

We don’t have our own home grown capers; but the allotment is awash with nasturtiums, and the seeds of this butterfly-like flower can be brined and pickled in the same way as capers to produce a good home-grown alternative. Picked whilst still green, soaked in brine, and pickled in vinegar infused with allotment herbs; these nasturtium ‘capers’ can be used like their Sicilian cousins.

You will need (Makes 2 x 115g jars)
15g salt
100g nasturtium seed pods
A few peppercorns
A few herbs; I used fennel tips and a bay leaf or two
1 tsp sugar
200ml white wine vinegar

Make a brine by dissolving the salt in 300ml of water. Clean up the seeds, discarding any seeds which are yellow or brown, as these won’t be tender and full of flavour after pickling. Put the remaining seeds into a bowl and cover with the cold brine, before leaving for 24 hours. The next day drain the seed pods and dry well. Pack them into small, sterilised, jars with the peppercorns and herbs, leaving 1cm at the top so the vinegar will cover the seeds well. Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil, then pour over the seeds and seal the jars with sterilised vinegar-proof lids. Store in a cool, dark place and leave for a few weeks before eating. Use within a year.

Nasturtium capers

Piccalilli from the Plot

The allotment is still producing large amounts of cucumbers and courgettes, and there are still the last few green beans too. This reminded me that some of this produce should be preserved in order to keep the plot providing into the autumn and winter. I’m a fan of chutneys and pickles. They are both a great way of using up a glut at the plot, and a delicious (and vital) component to any cheese and cold meat dish. The Festive Period is not the same without a chutney or pickle.

During a mini break in April, my wife and I stayed at the fantastic Bull Hotel in Bridport and enjoyed some amazing pigs head croquettes, accompanied by piccalilli. It was a delicious dish and I’d like to recreate some time. I can’t very easily get hold of a pigs head, but the crop of cucurbits at the allotment have provided me worth the ingredients for an allotment piccalilli.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word piccalilli to the middle of the 18th century when, in 1758, Hannah Glasse described how “to make Paco-Lilla, or India Pickle”. The use of spices like cumin, coriander and turmeric give the pickle an Indian feel and vibrant colour, but it is an archetypal English preserve.

As a fan of Pam Corbin’s River Cottage Handbook: Preserves; I based my own piccalilli on her recipe, using a combination of courgettes, cucumbers and dwarf green beans as the vegetable content.

What you will need
1kg washed/peeled crunchy veg
50g fine salt
30g cornflour
10g ground turmeric
10g English mustard powder
15g mustard seeds
1tsp crushed cumin seeds
1tsp crushed coriander seeds
600ml cider vinegar
150g granulated sugar
50g honey

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Cut the vegetables into even bite sized pieces. As I said, I used courgettes, cucumber and dwarf beans (but you could use pretty much anything). Sprinkle with salt, mix well, cover and leave in a cool place for 24 hours. Rinse thoroughly with cold water and drain to remove as much water as possible.

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Blend spices and cornflour to a smooth pasted with some of the vinegar. Put the rest of the vinegar, sugar and honey in a pan and bring to the boil. Pour some of the hot vinegar over the spicy paste, stir well and return to the pan. Bring gently to the boil for 3-4 minutes to thicken and flavour the sauce.

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Remove the pan from the heat and carefully fold the vegetables into the hot, spicy sauce. Pack the pickle into warm, sterilised jars and seal immediately. Pam Corbin recommends leaving the piccalilli for 4-6 weeks before eating (to allow the flavours to mature), but that was too long to wait, so a week later I opened the deliciously fragrant and crunchy pickle to accompany a nice ham sandwich.

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