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Elements / One ingredient, one dish

Capers are one of those ingredients that remind us just how hungry human beings can get.

They're buds of a bush found in Mediterranean countries and parts of Asia. Handpicked, the buds are usually dried, then preserved in a salt brine or dry salt.

Much of the salt is washed away when capers are rinsed before use in cooking.

Capers are a distinctive element of Italian cuisine, especially Sicilian dishes, like swordfish with a sauce of capers, orange and olives. The classic chicken piccata usually incorporates a healthy dose of capers in its lemony sauce.

Size matters: Petite nonpareil capers, the smallest commercially available, have a reputation for the most delicate flavor. If allowed to flower, capers will produce a fruit referred to as a "caper berry" that is sometimes picked and pickled.

Here, capers add salt and depth of flavor to a simple but luxurious dish of roasted mushrooms. It's a killer side dish alongside grilled steak or a bracingly fresh green salad.

> Roasted Mushrooms in Garlic-Caper Butter

1 pound mushrooms, such as cremini or white, halved lengthwise if large

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped

3 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with rack in middle.

Toss mushrooms with capers, garlic, oil, and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a 1 1/2 - to 2-quart shallow baking dish. Top with butter and roast, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and parsley.

Serve with at least one loaf of crusty bread.


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