Marinated Fresh Sardines with Bocconcini and Red Bell Pepper Strips

Serves 4 - 6

20 marinated fresh sardine fillets, recipe follows
1 large red bell pepper
20 very small bocconcini (small mozzarella balls), or larger ones cut into pieces
Minced fresh parsley leaves, garnish
Small capers, drained, garnish

Marinated Sardines fillets:
10 fresh sardines (about 1 pound), scales rubbed off
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Portuguese extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons very finely sliced shallots
2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

Marinated Sardines: To clean the sardines, with a small sharp knife, remove the heads. Carefully slit open the belly and clean and gut the fish. Grasping the top of the spine, quickly pull to remove. Cut the 2 fillets separate from the tail. Wash under running water and pat dry. Place in a single layer, skin side down, in a large shallow glass dish, cover with the lemon juice (use more as needed to cover) and salt. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours, depending upon their size. (The fish are marinated when they turn almost completely white.) Remove from the lemon juice, rinse and pat dry. Place the fillets in a clean shallow glass dish or platter. In a bowl, whisk together the oil, shallots, parsley, and red pepper. Pour over the sardines, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Main Directions: Bring the marinated sardine fillets to room temperature while assembling the remaining ingredients. Roast the pepper on an open gas flame, turning frequently with tongs until all sides are charred black, 7 to 10 minutes. (Alternately, the pepper can be roasted under a broiler, or on top of a gas or charcoal grill.) Place in a plastic or paper bag, and let sit until cool enough to handle. Peel the pepper, make a slit down 1 side, and open flat. Remove the seeds and the stems. Cut into 20 thin strips. Place the bocconcini balls on a work surface. Wrap each with 1 sardine fillet, then with a red bell pepper strip, and secure with a toothpick. Place on a decorative platter. Drizzle with the sardine fillet marinating oil. Garnish with the chopped parsley and sprinkle with the capers.