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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ASPARAGUS TIPS: Tart Tang Of Capers Tantalizes Taste Buds

During the week, we entertained guests from the United Kingdom and Australia. With drinks we ate rounds of bread topped with smoked trout, sour cream and capers. The capers make a change from the excesses of dill we sometimes suffer in Moscow while maintaining a sharp, tangy contrast to the smoothness of the sour cream. Later, I reflected on that zesty, sometimes unctuous bud, the caper.

Capers for culinary use are usually pickled in brine or vinegar but may also be preserved in salt. Salt-packed capers have a firmer, drier texture as well as a more complex taste and aroma because there is no pickling liquid to mask their natural flavor. Before using salt-packed capers, soak them in water to rid them of excess salt. Salt-packed capers are difficult to find, but it's easy to find pickled capers in Moscow, for about 30 rubles ($5) a jar. Labeled kaperci v uksuse (capers in vinegar) or simply kaperci.

When used sparingly, capers lend a subtle, earthy tanginess to foods. A heavier hand will unleash their mysterious, pleasantly astringent flavor. This assertiveness enlivens anything made with tomatoes, as well as stews, spreads and salads. If you wish, you can rinse them before adding them to a dish.

If you are not completely familiar with the strong flavors of capers, add them a few at a time so that you can control the taste and balance the flavors.

Experiment with such dishes as Green Olive Tapenade and Spaghetti alla Puttanesca.

For tapenade, a spread served on crisp toast, pit and chop about 20 green olives and place in bowl. (To pit olives, place one on a cutting board and hold the flat side of your knife on top of it; press down firmly, using your free hand to push on the flat blade of the knife. The olive will split and its pit will be easy to remove.)

Rinse two anchovy fillets (available canned from Western supermarkets). Pat them dry, finely chop, and add to the olives. Chop two tablespoons of capers, and stir thema little at a time into the olives and anchovies, to your taste. Add a finely chopped garlic clove. Stir in up to 2/3 cup of olive oil, a spoonful at a time, until the tapenade is the consistency you like. Add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and a teaspoon of cognac.

Let the tapenade sit for an hour or so, allowing the flavors to blend.

Spicy Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is sometimes said to be an aid to seduction. I like pasta and I think a nice pasta supper accompanied by a good Chianti, candlelight and a Pavarotti CD are romantic, but I don't see pasta sauce as an aphrodisiac. You might let me know how it works for you.

Crush two cloves of garlic, and seed and chop one small fresh red chili. Chop 8 anchovy fillets, and slice 125 grams of black olives. Melt 25 grams of butter and saut? the garlic, chili and anchovy for one minute.

Add about 400 grams of canned chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Cook 400 grams of spaghetti; when it is half cooked (about 7 minutes) return the sauce to the heat and add the olives, a tablespoon of capers and a tablespoon of chopped, fresh parsley and cook until the pasta is ready.

Drain the spaghetti, stir in the sauce and toss until the pasta is well coated.