recipe

Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

Zucchini paste with toasted nori and capers

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

At the moment, many home veggie gardeners are experiencing a glut of zucchinis, squash and other vining vegetables. Even just one or two plants can produce a massive quantity. Fortunately most will be picked as flowers or as young and tender fruit, and can be used to complement salads or eaten raw. But once zucchinis and squash grow bigger and a bit gnarly they can become waterlogged and a little sinewy. The default cooking treatment for our less desirable vegetables is to add stock and cook them with other veggies until we are left with a broth. But not everything needs to become soup. With a little heat and some cooking time, larger zucchinis can be delicious.

Zucchinis aside, the real heroes of this recipe are the capers, which are added at the end. A hardy shrub, caper plants seem to thrive in harsh environments, growing out of cracks in rocks or in arid conditions. We use the leaf and the berry as an ingredient, but the part we use most is actually the bud of a flower. Traditionally, once these buds are at their peak they are lightly salted to allow fermentation before they are more heavily salted to make them shelf stable. The more common commercial practice is to just store them straight into a brine.

I once witnessed caper production in the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily. It was an arduous but beautiful process that involved hand-harvesting flower buds from decades-old shrubs at ankle height before hand-grading and fermenting them. The islands have a strong history of caper production and the cliffs around the various harbours are pockmarked with caves dug out to store capers before their export to mainland Italy and elsewhere.

Since seeing their production, I now divide capers into two recipe camps. One to blend through sauces and fry in butter, the other to embellish other ingredients in order to enjoy the quality that comes from these expensive little buds.

Zucchini paste with toasted nori and capers

1kg mixed overgrown zucchini/squash

200ml olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

1 tsp chopped preserved lemon

2 sprigs marjoram

3 sheets toasted nori

30g capers

Cut the zucchini into two-centimetre rounds and place into a heavy-based pot with the olive oil, garlic and shallots. Cook over a low heat, stirring regularly. (The zucchini will start to break down after about 20 minutes so continue to stir to break up the structure of the skins.)

Once the zucchini is mostly broken down, or after 20 minutes, add the preserved lemon and the leaves from the marjoram. By this stage the olive oil should be starting to show more as the moisture evaporates from the zucchini. Adjust the seasoning and let the paste cool.

To serve, gently wave the nori over an open flame for a few seconds. Alternatively, place it in a hot oven for 10 seconds. Use scissors or a very sharp knife to shred the sheets into fine strips. Place the paste in a serving bowl and top with the capers, then the toasted nori.

This paste can be covered in oil and stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. It is great as a bruschetta, or I love to serve it underneath very finely sliced raw fish in a carpaccio style.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 23, 2021 as "On the plus side".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.