I have a courtyard. And it sits. And waits. But no one ever goes near it except for the occasional watering of plants. I have just recently discovered the beauty and potential of this little space. Swept clean of cobwebs and dirt that has formed a dust-like layer upon the tile, it begins to remind me of a little outdoor restaurant in Italy somewhere. My sister and I vigorously scrub the tile with water along with the metal chairs and table with spiral finishes and satisfied that it looked worlds cleaner, began to string rows of Christmas lights from one wall to the other, hanging paper lanterns every-so-often, and twisting the final stretch of light around a Japanese maple tree in the corner.
The little space comes to life when we throw a navy-blue and white table cloth in a fantastic design over the table, decorating every inch of the space with tea lights in amber-colored glass and larger creme-colored candles in magnificent glass-blown vases.
With this set-up there was no way we were going to pass up the opportunity to create a mini tapas restaurant in our own backyard. Inviting over one of my mother's closest friends, my sister and I hurriedly created a shopping list for the night ahead. And the kitchen was a mess by the time it was over. While "tapas" are supposed to be Spanish, we created tapas from around the world including baked brie with caramelized onions, lemongrass chicken skewers with a peanut satay sauce, hand rolled California rolls with (yay!) successful sushi rice, grilled slices of polenta with ratatouille and Parmesan, Peach Melba in a caramel with homemade raspberry sauce, and our recipe for today: marinated bell pepper salad. Not only was this my favorite dish of the bunch that we made, but it captured the original spirit of Italy that the courtyard seems to encompass. It is a magnificent, surprisingly to-die-for salad that is also unbelievably easy. And unlike other salads, it can be made way in advance.
Marinated Bell Pepper Salad
(makes 4 servings, from the Culinary Institute of America)
you will need:
-1/4 cup red wine vinegar
-1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
You can omit the red wine vinegar if you have a really good quality balsamic laying around. The red wine vinegar will overpower the subtle sweetness of a really good one.
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
-1 1/2 Tablespoons of fresh herbs (optional, of your choice)
-1 1/2 cups mild olive oil
-1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onions
-1/4 cup black olives cut into strips (pitted, of course)
-1/4 of a bunch of cilantro, chopped
-1/2 jalapeno, minced
-1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
-3 bell peppers (one of each color, you decide which three. I used red, yellow, and green)
-toasted pine nuts (you can toast them yourself)
-Parmesan cheese (preferably in large strips which can be bought pre-grated or you can do yourself)
1. Cut the bell peppers into 1/2 inch strips
2. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together, pour over the bell peppers, and toss till evenly coated. (There will be an excess of liquid in the bowl.) Try and get as many peppers beneath the surface of the liquid as possible without smashing them, cover with plastic wrap and let marinate at room temperature for 30-45 min or refrigerate until needed but let it come to room temperature again before serving.
3. Toss in the pine nuts, and grate fresh parmasean over the top and serve! Wasn't that easy? Enjoy!