The viral feta pasta dish everyone's raving about is even better without pasta

Our cheap, fast and friendly take is guaranteed to delight beginners and exhausted home cooks alike in the kitchen

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
February 9, 2021 9:04PM (UTC)
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Feta Tomato dish (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

In "Quick & Dirty," Salon Food's Mary Elizabeth Williams serves up simplified recipes and shortcuts for exhausted cooks just like you — because quick and dirty should still be delicious.

Lately, I feel about my kitchen the way I feel about New York — it's 51% great and 49% godawful. As long as I hang on to that slender margin — the one that offers the hope that something magic can happen at any moment — I can make it through the tough days. Keeping that number in proportion, though, takes daily effort.

Whether you're a practiced home cook or a known personality to every delivery person in your zip code, the pandemic has forced all of us to reconsider how we shop for, prepare, eat and clean up after our meals. It's a lot — and some days I find myself pretty hostile about the whole thing. On those days, I'd prefer to pour myself a glass of pinot, eat a sleeve of Ritz crackers and call it dinner. But most of the time, I muster whatever remaining shred of daily enthusiasm it takes to get food for my family on the table and turn on the stove. Oddly enough, I often even wind up enjoying it.

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We're all in this together, and I believe we can lower the bar without giving up. When cooking is less tedious and time-consuming, eating is more fun. So I'll be here each week giving you something "Quick & Dirty." It may be a stripped down version of a popular recipe or a go-to shortcut that a culinary professional turns to in their own kitchen. Whatever the case, it'll be cheap, fast and friendly to beginners and exhausted home cooks alike.


What's your go-to easiest recipe? Tell us below in the comments!


I can think of no dish that better represents the spirit of cooking together while apart this week than that internet-famous baked feta pasta. It began its life with Finnish food stylist Jenni Häyrinen back in 2019, where it first when viral in her home country. As she writes on her blog, "The feta cheese sales went up 300% here, the shops were running out of baked feta pasta ingredients and by this date the original uunifetapasta recipe post has over 2.7 million views. Finland has 5.5 million inhabitants, to put things into perspective." 

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Soon, the uunifetapasta migrated to this side of the Atlantic through MacKenzie Smith's Grilled Cheese Social, where it enjoyed online success. But it went full bonkers recently when Feel Good Foodie posted about it on her TikTok. Her video is currently closing in on 6 million views, and everyone on social media with an oven is sharing their own version of it.

What is it about this humble dish made of ordinary supermarket ingredients that's made it so popular? I think it's the show-stopping technique — you put a whole block of cheese in the middle of tiny tomatoes and roast it. In half an hour, you can't not wind up with something that makes you go, "Damn, girl, I need to take a picture of this." In addition to tasting incredible, it doesn't hurt that this dish makes your house smell fantastic.

While the original recipe is already super easy exactly like it is, I've cut a few corners to make it even simpler. Because I'd never dirty two pans when I can dirty only one or keep track of cooking times for two things when I can keep track of just one, I've ditched the pasta altogether. Bonus: It's more flavorful now. I've also baked this dish on a sheet pan, so everything gets that much more burnished.

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Because feta and tomatoes already evoke the flavors of Greek cooking, I've leaned in that direction with gigantes beans, lemon and oregano. You can just as easily go the original route, and serve this meal with cooked pasta or choose any beans of your liking. Or forgo that starchy part altogether, and simply serve the baked feta and tomatoes on crusty bread. Who would actually complain?

You can swap out the feta for another crumbly cheese like chèvre — and don't tell me this wouldn't be delicious made with a big old brick of cream cheese. Or make it vegan with a block of tofu, and up the saltiness with some olives and capers. It's endlessly adaptable, all but foolproof. Most of all, it's just really, really good.

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Recipe: TikTok Famous Feta and Tomatoes

Adapted from Liemessa, Grilled Cheese Social and Feel Good Foodie

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 container of cherry or grape tomatoes, cleaned
  • 1 (8 oz.) container of feta cheese
  • 2 cans of butter beans, drained
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly (more if you like)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 small lemon, thinly sliced
  • Oregano and red pepper flakes, plus cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  3. Add beans and tomatoes to pan, and toss with olive oil and garlic.
  4. Nestle feta in the center of the pan.
  5. Add lemons before scattering salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and oregano on top.
  6. Roast for 30 minutes.
  7. Turn on broiler. Broil approximately 5 minutes, checking after 3. 
  8. Stir, and serve (preferably accompanied by good bread).

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Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cheese Feta Food Jenni Häyrinen Pasta Quick & Dirty Recipe Tiktok Uunifetapasta