Capparis spinosa isthe caper bush. The plant is best known for the edible, unripened flower buds – capers – kapary (in Polish) which areoften used as a seasoning and are usually pickled in brine, vinegar or wine.
These perennial plants are native to the Mediterranean and some parts of Asia. Their use dates back to around 2,000 BC where they are mentioned as a food in Sumerian literature.
The caper buds are picked by hand which can make the cost of a small jar expensive.
Pickled nasturtium (Tropaeolum maius) (nasturcja in Polish) seeds – often called poor man’s capers are a good substitute.
Cooking With Capers
Capers have long been used in the Mediterranean region especially in Italian cooking.
Capers are usually added to the dish toward the end of the cooking process, to keep their shape and flavour.
Sos kaparowy – Caper sauce
This is very popular in Poland and is made with chopped capers and mayonnaise and is served with hard-boiled eggs.
I was well into my 20s before I realised that there was a special French culinary phrase to describe, what to me, was just the regular topping that my mother and aunties put onto certain cooked vegetables.
Within my family I had never been served cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or whole green beans without a lovely crispy buttery breadcrumb mixture.
I have not discovered when this term was first used in France but some sources think it might have come into use in the early part of the 19th century when many Polish political émigrés came to France and in particular Paris.
Method for the Vegetables
Cook your cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or whole green bean in whatever way you like best.
You can if you wish cook the cauliflower whole – this can have quite a good effect when served.
I like to steam the vegetables as I find I can get them just right – cooked – but still with a bit of bite this way.
Place the cooked (and drained if necessary) vegetables in a serving dish.
Pour the buttery topping over the vegetables.
You will get a buttery crunchy taste which is a contrast to the vegetables.
Method for the à la Polonaise topping
The topping is made by melting in a saucepan 2 to 3 tablespoonfuls of butter.
(If you use unsalted butter then add a pinch or two of salt)
Add to this around 2 tablespoonfuls of dried breadcrumbs and keep on the heat and stir for a few minutes.
Pour the buttery mix over the vegetables.
Cauliflower à la Polonaise – served in a Royal Doulton serving dish. The pattern is Carnation produced from 1982 to 1998.
Brussels Sprouts à la Polonaise – served in a Royal Doulton serving dish. The pattern is Roundelay produced from 1970 to 1997.
Whole green beans à la Polonaise
Some cookery books say that chopped hard boiled eggs and chopped flat leaf parsley are added to the topping.
Personally I have not found this to be usually so, although chopped hard boiled eggs are added to many salads and to certain soups in Poland and chopped flat leafed parsley is very often used as a garnish.