February 22, 2021
Welp. I've done it. I have succumbed to the TikTok "baked feta and tomato pasta" craze. It wormed its way into my life against the odds. I am 50 (WHAT?) and am barely comfortable using Instagram, let alone TikTok. The only reason I show up there is to watch my niece create gorgeous watercolor paintings. This recipe originated in Finland about two years ago and has since gone viral. A close friend who knows me well and understands my food obsession sent me an article about it a few weeks ago, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. Then it started popping up all over my news feed. I decided to make it last night.
I went to my fave supermarket, Trader Joe's, with zero sense of urgency. I needed two things: a block of Greek feta cheese and cherry tomatoes. Yeah yeah, I know it's not tomato season, but in my humble opinion, the smaller tomatoes, cherry and grape, are easy to find, relatively ripe and sweet "enough." I grabbed those. Then I walked over to the cheese aisle. I had read somewhere along my travels down the baked feta and tomato rabbit hole that it's best to use Greek feta. The higher fat content in sheep's milk lends a creamier result than using feta made from cow's milk. Some recipe tested claimed the cow's milk feta up ended up grainy. Sad. For the love of all that is holy, I want nothing to do with anything grainy ever! I grabbed the only block of Greek feta I could find.
At checkout, a kind and chatty lady exclaimed, "oh, you got the last one." She told me that they couldn't keep the Greek feta in stock since the whole "going viral" incident, and it was forever "sold out." A familiar panic nestled in the pit of my belly, the fear of not finding that one ingredient I needed to make the meal I craved. All was well though, I was ok, the feta was in my bag, and no one could take it from me.
There are quite a few iterations of the original recipe running around out there, but I settled on the following. My most significant tweaks were adding fresh thyme and scaling everything up to work with a full pound of pasta. One of my biggest pet peeves is when a recipe calls for 10 or 12 oz of pasta. Just no. Another note, I have made this twice. The first was with the Trader Joe's feta packaged in brine. The second was not stored in brine. The first attempt came out creamier and I'm not sure if that brine had anything to do with it. Both ways were delicious!
I will definitely be making this again. The tomatoes' sweetness mellowed the brininess of the feta in a way that kept me going back for more. It's easy to make, uses few ingredients, and goes from stove to fork to belly in under 45 minutes. It's also easily adaptable; add your favorite fresh herbs or chopped shallot to bake along with the feta and tomatoes.
2 1/2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes (about 600 grams), or a combination of both
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large pinches of kosher salt
hot pepper flakes (optional)
8 ounces Greek feta cheese (preferably a solid block, not crumbled)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound pasta (I used fusilli)
generous handful chopped/torn fresh basil
Preheat the oven to 400° F.
Set a large pot of water over high heat. Add a generous amount of kosher salt when boiling.
Put the cherry or grape tomatoes in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan and toss with the thyme, half of the olive oil, some kosher salt, and a pinch or two of red pepper flakes. Set the feta in the middle of all that goodness and pour the remaining olive oil over it.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until the tomatoes burst and take on color, and the top of the feta turns golden brown. If you want even more color, set this under your broiler for a few minutes. Watch it closely though, it can burn quickly. Remove from the oven, add the minced garlic and stir until the feta melts into a creamy sauce.
In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the package directions, or a minute or two less if you like it al dente like me. Before draining, hold on to about 1/2 cup of that pasta water. You might need it soon.
Drain the pasta. Add the hot pasta to the feta sauce and mix in the chopped basil. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water to loosen it up. Taste and add more salt if desired. Serve this with a bright, light, green salad for a satisfying and easy weeknight meal. ENJOY!