CAPER PESTO

I can still smell the warm night air, pregnant with the nectar of caper flowers and wild fennel. The land on Salina is so fertile from fresh water springs and volcanic soil that lush vegetation bursts out of the hills and seems to spill onto the windy roads before you. The island is Sicilian in character but arid is not a way to describe it, this place is injected with vibrant emerald green life.

I love the main port, Santa Maria di Salina with the clamour of its noisy fish monger, a modest amount of tourist tat strewn on the pavement dotted with the occasional set of rough pearls and the twinkling lights from Lipari island, flickering like candles in the haze across the archipelago. Next to it sits Lingua, a small village with a big reputation for the best granita in the country. A busy panneria named Da Alfredo sells them in a rainbow of flavours from refreshing watermelon to cool fichi d’india, so good that Sean Connery sends his skivvys off the yacht to fetch them in the baking afternoon sun. But the best part of this island lies over the double peaks and nestles within the crater of an extinct volcano.

Pollara looks as if she has been ripped in half by Aeolus, the tempestuous god of wind. She is a gigantic semi-circular amphitheatre with stonewashed houses as her players and behind her abrupt curved cliff, rests a perfectly round, shallow cove that gently laps against the shore. This is a haven for fish and so a heaven for snorkelers, but if I take you back up the 300 carved, steep stone steps, we end up in a farm called Al Capero.

Al Cappero is an Agroturismo that cooks and sells the food it produces. Capers are the island’s main produce, along with light Malvasia wine and fish from the abundant deep blue surrounding it. Pollara faces the West and so as you polish off your last mouthful of freshly stuffed squid with lemon drenched breadcrumbs and sip on a silky mouthful of sweet Malvasia, you and the dappled sea become bathed in soft pinky-orange light.

Anna, the grandmother and family cook, told me the ingredients for her famous caper pesto. I even took away a couple of jars and have been trying to determine the measurements ever since. We often see capers as a finishing touch or foil to something else and never a main ingredient but this dish, in all its beautiful simplicity, shows them off in their finest light. It is true memory-food and even though I haven’t been to Salina in 3 years, a forkful of this instantly transports me back to that honeyed evening with the scent of caper flowers on the breeze.

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A handful of fresh finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red chili
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cup (roughly 100g jar) salted capers
  • Pepper
  • Parmezan for grating
METHOD

Finely chop your garlic and chili. You can either add all of the ingredients to a food processor or chop the capers and grind it all up with a pestle and mortar. Be sure to warm the pesto up on a very low heat, otherwise it sticks to the bottom of the pan and you wouldn’t want to waste a morsel of this beautiful food.

The man picking capers is taken from the brilliant Jamie Oliver Magazine and the photo of Pollara is my desktop background of the month. Click on it for the full sized image and download.

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