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Pantelleria Volcano is known as the “Black Pearl of the Mediterranean” thanks to its jet-black landscape of jet lava. This island is a rocky part of Sicily, closer to Tunisia than the rest of Italy, and towards Africa (visible on a clear day). And it also happens to be home to some of the best capers in the world.
Gabriele Lazzani opened the Capello Museum in 2021 next to La Nicchia, the caper company founded by his wife’s family some 75 years ago and affiliated with the area restaurant of the same name. Pantelleria’s volcanic soil is “the perfect source of nutrients for the caper plant,” he says, and a walk anywhere on the island proves that. This flowering plant grows wild among giant cacti, cascading bougainvilleas, and pink and white oleander bushes. Every corner of the island has almost no shade. Harvesting is done by hand, and the capers are preserved by dry fermentation using local sea salt rather than saline or vinegar brine.
New York-based Gustiamo imports Italian delicacies, including La Nicchia capers, but it doesn’t just focus on fruit and buds. Take a cue from Pantelleria, where chefs utilize the whole plant and the fruit is more than just a seasoning. Fermenting the small, flat leaves neatly resolves the avalanche of capers that tumble from bagels with lox, and the freeze-dried buds are perfect as an accompaniment to mineral-rich Pantelleria Zibibbo white wine. Dried and salted croccanti adds a salty crunch to the tartare. Ground caper powder, on the other hand, is a nice cocktail garnish for drinks that require a salty edge.
Two of the best gelaterias on the island, Il Gelato di Ulisse and Katia, offer dark chocolate and caper combinations bursting with bittersweet, salty umami. Unfortunately, gelato is not portable.But a company called Savadi exports Pantelleria’s caper-studded chocolate bars to 35 countries, including the United States.