Italy’s Aeolian Island Festival Celebrates The Sensual Delights of Capers

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So important is the caper to Salina, that the first Sunday of each June for nearly two decades, it has been the focus of a famous festival, the Festa del Cappero in Fiore, or Feast of the Caper in Bloom. “The essential and constant presence of the caper in Aeolian cuisine gives each dish the same sensuality as the plant itself,” says Salina Island's Hotel Signum’s chef, Michele Caruso.

Most of us know capers as those tiny, dark green flower buds that lend a piquant burst of flavor to salads, pastas, and fish. In Italy, however, capers are much more than a culinary accompaniment. For centuries, capers have been valued not only for their gastronomical and medicinal qualities, but for their aphrodisiac ones as well.

On Salina Island, the second largest in the Aeolian archipelago, capers have long been a key ingredient in that region’s tantalizing cuisine, which itself is a perfect reflection of a land rich in sensory experience.

So important is the caper to Salina, that the first Sunday of each June for nearly two decades, it has been the focus of a famous festival, the Festa del Cappero in Fiore, or Feast of the Caper in Bloom. Thanks to the ongoing initiative and unwavering commitment of Salina Island native Clara Rametta (with Didyme 90 association), who is also the owner of the captivating Hotel Signum http://bit.ly/HotelSignum, the festival will take place once again this year, on June 6, 2010.

Luca Caruso, who works closely with Clara, his mother, on the front of the house operations at Hotel Signum’s restaurant, affirms, “This is a display of colors and flavors that wind through our cultural lineage.”

Taking place in the charming village of Pollara - Malfa, on the Piazza S. Onofrio (famous as well as the scenic location for the movie, Il Postino), this year’s lively festival will once again honor the island’s main varieties of capers, Tondina or Nocellara. Capers are the flowers of the plant still in bud, but if left to blossom become beautiful white to pinkish-white elegant and exotic flowers.

“The essential and constant presence of the caper in Aeolian cuisine gives each dish the same sensuality as the plant itself,” says Hotel Signum’s chef, Michele Caruso, Clara’s husband. Along with the couple’s talented daughter, Martina, he prepares time-honored Aeolian dishes, as well as unique, up-to-the-minute creations using fresh local fish, homemade pasta, and seasonal vegetables. Michele is also participates in the island's Slow Food movement, which hosts festivals throughout the year.

Along with lots of dancing, drinking, and socializing, visitors to the caper festival can expect to be enticed by a variety of producers showcasing their local wines, foodstuffs, and caper-based dishes. Hotel Signum’s restaurant offers different dishes during this occasion such as caper salad flavored with fresh mint; homemade maccheroncini pasta with caper pesto; and eggplant croquettes with capers.

Debra Levinson, the editor-in-chief of Italy Luxury Family Hotels & Resorts guidebooks http://italyluxuryfamilyhotels.com, heartily recommends a stay at Hotel Signum if you attend the festival. She and her family enjoyed a wonderful stay at the property last summer, and were treated to exceptional service, a host of amenities, and unmatched culinary delights from Michele’s kitchen.

“These dishes are so rich in color you consume them with your eyes before tasting – each is an invitation to pleasure,” she remarks.
As for the legendary aphrodisiac effect of the capers? “Well,” Levinson admits, “it only takes trying it to believe it!”

What makes these dishes especially wonderful is the maverick selection of wines chosen by Vincenzo Minieri, Hotel Signum’s wine expert. Minieri is no ordinary sommelier, but rather a kind of “wine whisperer” who takes time to fully understand the complexity of each guest and then matches a wine to accompany their chosen dish, ingredient, or even emotion and mood.

Any given night is the opportunity to be treated to something absolutely unusual, like the Munjebel, whose grapes are grown on Mt. Etna and, of course, the famous Malvasia wines of Salina.

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Dr. Debra Levinson

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