I love the foods, wines, spices, and flavors of the Mediterranean. There’s just something about that sunny region with its warm, friendly people, blue water, and simple comforting foods, that speaks to my soul. I know I’m not unique in this opinion—just look at all the Mediterranean themed cookbooks, restaurants, cooking show episodes, movies, and books on the market.
It’s really not surprising that the flavors of this area speak to so many of us, after all it’s a huge area encompassing 21 countries, three continents, and millions of people. And don’t forget, this is where the Roman Empire started, which spread its arms (and lots of other body parts) all the way to the British Isles influencing all of the cultures it touched. We’re practically genetically predisposed to love the Mediterranean.
Unfortunately, too many times when someone says Mediterranean food they’re limiting their references to Italian cuisine and more specifically Sicilian cuisine. But as I said, there are 20 other countries bordering that beautiful sea.They are, in no particular order: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Albania, France, Greece, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and as mentioned above, Italy. Each of those cultures has its own unique flavors and dishes, but the same thread of devotion to local ingredients and simplicity of preparation, runs through them all. I’ve been lucky to visit several of those countries and that has only deepened my love of their foods and culture. In my spice rack you’ll find Berbere spice blends right alongside the Basil, and in the refrigerator you’re as likely to find a jar of Turkish Çaçik as you are aioli.
In that vein of blending flavors from the various areas of the Mediterranean, I wanted to share this fantastic Marinated Olives and Cheese dish with you. It’s so simple and quick, relatively inexpensive, and can serve as an appetizer, light lunch, snack, or flavorful side dish for a dinner of grilled fish or meat. You can switch up the main ingredients, as well as the herbs and spices to suit your own taste, I do it all the time depending on the situation. Manchego Cheese makes a great sub for the Feta, you could use Oregano, Basil, Marjoram and Thyme instead of the Herbes de Provence, you could add in some Red Pepper Flakes to spice it up, or a little aged Balsamic instead of Red Wine Vinegar…play with it and make it yours. This can be made and served on the same day, but it’s really best to make it the night before you plan to serve it. That extra time results in a magical melding of all those flavors that just sings in your mouth. If you can, enjoy a lively red wine from Spain with this, and enjoy it with people you love.
Mediterranean Marinated Olives and Cheese
2 cups Kalamata Olives, rinsed
12 oz Feta Cheese (chunks, not crumbled!)
1 Red Bell Pepper, roasted*
1 Yellow or Orange Bell Pepper, roasted*
2-3 Garlic Cloves, peeled and left whole
~ 1 cup of really good Olive Oil
2-3 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp Herbes de Provence
1 Tbsp freshly grated Lemon Zest
Fresh Ground Black Pepper to taste
Cut your Feta into bite sized chunks and place into a large glass bowl along with the Garlic, and Kalamata Olives. Chop your Roasted Peppers into one inch squares, or long strips if you prefer, and place in the bowl with the Olives and Cheese.
In a smaller bowl mix together the Oil, Vinegar, Herbes de Provence, Black Pepper and Lemon Zest.
Pour the marinade over the Olives, Cheese and Peppers and mix gently but thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste.
Place in the refrigerator for a minimum of an hour, but preferably overnight.
Before serving, remove from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh herbs if desired.
Serve in small bowls, or allow guests to serve themselves.
* To roast peppers at home you can use either broiler,a gas range or a grill. If using a gas range or grill: wash and dry your peppers, turn the flame to high, and carefully place the peppers over the flame using metal tongs. Allow the skins to blacken and blister, while turning the peppers to make sure they are roasted on all sides. When evenly blackened, remove to a metal bowl and cover with a clean dish towel for 15 minutes. This allows the peppers to cool and the skins to loosen. Once cool enough to handle, rub the blackened skin off, remove the stems and seeds and chop as directed above.
If using a broiler: Heat broiler on high. Cut the stems and bottom ends of the peppers off, and make a vertical cut from top to bottom on each side. Remove seeds and place the peppers skin side up on a broiler pan. Place under the broiler for approximately 10 minutes (or until skins are blackened as described above). Keep an eye on the progress as you can quickly pass “roasted” and end up with “incinerated” Then proceed as above, allowing the peppers to rest and cool.
Doesn’t this sound amazingly delicious? To me it’s the perfect party dish, but also easy enough to keep on hand for quick weeknight dinners or an impromptu Wine and Chat with neighbors.
Let me know what changes you’d make to suit your tastes!