Thursday, February 27, 2014

Salad Provencale

Popping with vibrant jewel-like colors, this salad is worthy of being "center table" even if
you aren't inclined to eat it!  The breezes of Provence in the south of France,  must be
perfumed with the herbs of this salad, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and tarragon, growing next to fields of sunflowers and lavender in the warm Mediterranean sun.  Or at least I can imagine it so, from pictures and movies I've seen of the region.  So inspired I've been that my kitchen d├ęcor is an homage to the colors of Provence, including buttery yellow and pottery blue painted walls, accented with curtains made from napkins purchased in Paris...as close as I've made it so far. 


 I can more easily imagine orchards of olive trees rooted on rocky, craggy terraces....  I come by that musing from first hand experience, having lived in Tunisia.   This North African, Mediterranean country is not touted as a great producer of olive oil and yet 30% of its cultivated land is dedicated to olive husbandry- which I would attest to having been lost, on
one occasion, among olive trees standing at attention, like wooden soldiers as far as the
eye could see in every direction.  Judging from the position of the sun, my husband was certain he must be driving in the right direction as we bumped about the rows and furrows of the olive orchards for what seemed hours.  The monotony was only broken by an impromptu visit to an ancient olive oil factory we happened upon.  The best field trip ever for our children who were allowed to walk right up next to the workers without a hairnet on and watch as the workers filled round woven baskets with olives, piled the baskets one upon another on the stone press, and then lowered a heavy stone on top of the stack to press the oil from the olives, leaving the pits and pith behind in the woven mesh of the baskets.  The Tunisian workers were delighted to display their skill in their un-mechanized, yet ingenious industry and were delighted to find that anyone, let alone American tourists might be interested.  Alas the Tunisian industry saved the first press, the light pale oil, for export and sold the green, bitter, 3rd or 4th press for the locals and expats who temporarily ate as the locals did.  In this salad recipe, treat these beautiful veggies to an oil fit for their vibrance!







                  
                  Provencal Pepper Salad
            2 large green peppers
            2 large sweet red peppers
            6 ripe tomatoes
            6 hard-boiled eggs
            (24 anchovy fillets - optional)
            3 cloves garlic, chopped
            1-2 tab. each finely chopped parsley, chives, tarragon
            8 tab. olive oil
            3 tab. wine vinegar
            salt and pepper 


            -Herb Dressing: Combine garlic and fresh herbs with oil,
                 vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.


            - Prepare peppers as follows: wash and dry whole peppers.
                 Place under broiler, as close as possible to heating element.
                 Cook, turning peppers frequently until skin on all sides has
                 charred. Place peppers in a plastic bag for 10 minutes.
                 Remove peppers and rub off charred skin under cold running
                 water. Cut peppers into strips, 4-6 to each pepper. Wash off
                 seeds and excess fiber; drain.


     -Slice tomatoes thickly and cover bottom of a large flat serving
        dish with slices. Sprinkle with a quarter of the salad dressing;
        add a layer of  prepared green peppers and sprinkle with
        dressing; add a layer of red peppers and sprinkle with 
        dressing. Shell eggs and slice into rings. Cover red pepper
        layer with a layer of sliced eggs and pour the remaining
        dressing over the top. Arrange anchovy fillets in a lattice on
        top. Chill for at least 30 minutes.


Persnickety PS:  Techniques used for Peeling Pesky Peppers!
     For all techniques:  If you worry you've burned your peppers, don't throw them out...they're just
                 ready to peel!


     Technique #1: I first learned how to peel peppers from our Tunisian maid - placing them directly on the flame of a gas burner, turning as each surface was charred.  (It worked beautifully but was a messy affair.)


     Technique #2: Garnered from a Mexican cookbook, this became my go-to peeling method for years.  Place the whole peppers on a rack underneath the hot broiler.  Char and blacken peppers on all sides by turning to another side, once the top surface is charred. Takes about 5 minutes per side.  Remove peppers from oven and place them in a plastic bag and set aside for 10 minutes.  Then peel off the charred skin under running cold water.  (It is sometimes difficult to char the peppers evenly which makes it hard to easily remove the peel.)  


      Enter Technique #3:  Currently my method of choice as the flatter surfaces of the pepper, char more evenly and therefore peel uniformly. Cut the pepper into quarters and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet, skin side up about 6 inches under the broiler.  Broil until pepper quarters are charred and blackened.  Remove and place in a plastic bag or in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and let sit 10 minutes.  Remove charred skin under running cold water.  If the recipe suggests saving the juices from the peppers, peel over a bowl to catch the juices (however, the skin is more difficult to remove without the running water.)

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