I tried the famous feta and tomatoes

I’m a bit late to the Baked Feta and Tomatoes party. After I realized there was no feta cheese in the grocery store, a friend explained to me that TikTok had created a run on it with a newly popular recipe. The concept didn’t sound terrible: tasty, easy, reasonably healthful. Also vegetarian.

So I tracked down a block of feta hiding in a far corner of my grocery store, and looked up recipes on the internet. Happily I found the perfect one on a website I love anyway: OliveTomato. Registered Dietitian Elena Paravantes writes about Greek Mediterranean cooking. She points out that the traditional version of this recipe is not a pasta dish. It’s more of an appetizer. You bake the feta, cherry tomatoes and whatever else you like and then eat it on crusty bread.

I ended up with an 8 oz block of feta, so I just used the whole thing. I used one package of cherry tomatoes, but probably could have used 2. Or added some other vegetables. Standard suggestions included spinach and/or mushrooms. I could see using chunked up eggplant or zucchini.

Here’s an important tip: use full fat feta. A lot of what’s available is not full fat; it’s non fat. The package will be labeled, so be sure to check. Non fat feta will not bake to the meltingly smooth texture you need. Also you do need to find feta in a block, not crumbled.

It might be tempting to assume that you could make this recipe with tofu. After all, a block of tofu does look a lot like feta. Not The Same. Tofu will not melt. More likely, it will harden into a congealed lump. The only possible vegan version would be to bake the vegetables (cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, the hot pepper, etc) with olive oil and herbs; I’d suggest some garlic to boost the flavor. Then as you take it out of the oven, crumble silken tofu over the pan and mash it up a bit. Salt to taste. You won’t have that lovely cheesy flavor, but it will taste like roasted vegetables. Nothing wrong with that.

As for the pasta: according to the popular version of the recipe, you add cooked pasta to the baked feta and serve. It’s not a bad way to put together a main dish. I’d suggest a short pasta like macaroni or penne, not spaghetti or fettuccine. But you can use other grain-based foods too, as long as they’re pre-cooked. Israeli (pearl) couscous would work well. Brown rice, barley or farro are also possibilities.

I do like the idea of just dipping bread into the pan. A rustic loaf of whole grain bread, or a flat bread like pita would work well. Serve a salad on the side. Voila, dinner.

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