Stop Baking Feta?
Are you tired of all the baked feta posts on social media? Too bad for you, it’s likely here to stay. Here is baked feta with tomatoes over pasta made by my daughter’s friend Jacqueline. (Photo by Jacqueline Rigney )
It was hard to be anywhere on social media in recent weeks and not run across the words “baked feta.” Another simple but delicious recipe, baked feta with cherry tomatoes over pasta, may have started on TikTok with Jenni in Finland, and then may have received a boost from MacKenzie in the United States and before you knew it, some stores were reporting runs on feta cheese and there were pictures posted on Facebook of husbands holding up signs saying “Stop baking feta.”
When I posted it on my Facebook feed, my friend Robin expressed interest, along with many others. So I made it, loved it, and dropped some off with her for her to try it. She loved it, too. Then I got a text message from one of my daughter’s friends, Jacqueline, who lives in New York City and was on a ski vacation in Vermont. She saw it on my Facebook feed, she tried it that same night, and she loved it, too.
So here it is, a recipe adapted from a recipe by food writer and recipe developer Aaron Hutcherson in the Washington Post, which was adapted from the numerous version found online. Hype aside, I think anyone who loves burst, caramelized cherry tomatoes with hunks of garlic in a creamy sauce mixed with pasta and basil will love it, too. And, yes, it’s really easy.
A key to success is getting the right kind of feta. There are different kinds and they can differ when it comes to sharpness, tang, and texture. For this recipe, the best choice is Greek feta, which is traditionally mostly goat’s milk, plus some sheep’s milk. I used the Mt. Vikos brand, which is pretty easy to find, both in supermarkets and in specialty shops.
Another key to success is making sure the tomatoes are cooked long enough and at a high enough heat so that they are burst and starting to brown and sizzle.
I was also curious about a vegan version, one that used tofu and a variety of other ingredients to mimic the feta, and it subbed spinach for the basil. I didn’t like how it smelled when I first made it. It smelled very much of vinegar. But once I baked it, it was really quite good. It tasted maybe a little bit too healthy to me, what with the spinach and all. But Robin preferred this version, since it was lighter and still very flavorful. Another advantage is that, if you get the tofu in the aseptic package, all the ingredients are shelf stable. Also, you won’t have to fight someone for that last package of feta at the supermarket. Visit plantyou.com/easy-healthy-whole-food-plant-based-recipes, and search for “Baked Feta Pasta.”
Baked Feta and Cherry Tomato Pasta
Adapted from a recipe by Aaron Hutcherson
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 block, about 6 to 7 ounces,
Greek feta cheese
1 teaspoon mild red pepper flakes,
such as Aleppo-style pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces medium-length dried pasta
(rigatoni or rotini)
½ to 1 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned,
(optional but highly recommended)
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In a 9 inch x 13-inch baking dish, combine the tomatoes, garlic, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Sprinkle with some salt. Toss to coat.
Place the feta cheese in the center of the tomatoes and garlic, top with the remaining olive oil, and sprinkle the entire dish with red pepper flakes and a little black pepper. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the tomatoes have burst their skins and have caramelized on top.
While the feta and tomatoes are baking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, until just al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta.
Mix the feta and tomatoes until evenly combined. Mix the sauce with pasta, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Taste and season with additional salt, black pepper, and Aleppo-style pepper, if desired. Mix in basil. Makes four to six servings.