I am not a very good photographer. I just don’t have It, that thing that allows people to capture the essence of their subject in a photograph. Most of the time I’m at peace with this. But sometimes it frustrates me.
For example. I made baked feta in tomato sauce. There’s a photo of it in this post. This photo does absolutely nothing to illustrate how delicious that baked feta was. What looks like a few unidentified bits and bobs floating in a pool of tomato sauce is, in reality, one of the most mouth-watering things I’ve made in quite some time. It’s a one-two-three salty sucker punch of feta, olives, and capers, tickled with Mediterranean seasonings and swaddled in tomato sauce. Feta is one of those cheeses that doesn’t really melt under heat, but holds its shape until prodded, then slumps into a creamy cloudlike mass. Bake it for a while, especially in a pungent tomato sauce base like this, and it’s perfect for smearing on crusty bread or crackers.
I got the idea for this from Emmy’s comment on my tomato sauce post. She mentioned it offhand, and gave no details. But it lodged itself in my head, and when the first of the year’s sheep’s milk feta came available at my local farmer’s market, I decided to give it a whirl. It’s an indulgence, this cheese–expensive, and worth every penny. I love the slight acrid muskiness it has, a clear reminder that it came from an animal. But really, any reasonably good-quality feta would do just fine here. It’s the salt and the lush texture that you want, muscling out from under the acid-sweet tomato sauce.
Just on its own, as a dip for bread or crackers, this is pretty phenomenal. But to make it a bit more of a substantial treat–say, for a Mother’s Day brunch–crack four eggs over the top before adding the shallot rings and oil. The egg yolks will set to a creamy, not-quite-runny consistency, and you can then mash the whole thing together with a fork or hunks of bread. I’m actually salivating just thinking about it.
Baked Feta in Tomato Sauce (serves 4 as an appetizer)
Note: I used way too much tomato sauce in the pictured batch. The recipe has been adjusted to call for a more reasonable amount. I also used ramekins that were slightly too small, so that even a gentle stir sent tomato sauce all over the counter. You’ll want at least a 1-quart dish, or four 1-cup ramekins, to hold the whole shebang.
1 (6-8 oz) block good-quality feta cheese
1 cup tomato sauce (storebought or homemade)
1/4 cup pitted chopped Kalamata olives
1 tbsp drained capers
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red chili flakes, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 large eggs (optional)
1 small shallot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Crusty bread, warm pita bread, crackers, or chips for serving
Special equipment: 1-quart baking dish OR 4 oven-safe ramekins with at least 1 cup capacity
Preheat oven to 400º F, and lightly grease a baking dish or 4 ramekins. If your feta is in brine, drain it thoroughly. Cut or crumble the feta into about 1-inch pieces.
Spread about half the tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish(es). Scatter the feta, olives, and capers evenly over the sauce. Sprinkle garlic, oregano, and chili flakes evenly over the feta mixture, and season with black pepper. Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the feta mixture. Gently crack the eggs (if using) over the top, spacing them evenly throughout the dish (or use one egg per ramekin). Scatter over the shallot slices, and drizzle with olive oil.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the feta is soft and warm, the eggs are softly set, and the shallots are starting to turn golden. Serve immediately with bread or crackers for dipping.