summer appetizer: feta packets!
I am totally in love with this recipe. Like, we had it with dinner last night and used all our feta, but I want to go back and get more and eat it all by myself for lunch it’s so good. It’s like a magic little packet that you throw in the oven only imagining that it’ll probably be good but then you pull it out and it’s melty and aromatic and delicious, and it’s like opening a christmas present in summer. And the best thing is, not only does it taste good, I think it may be the easiest and most low maintenance appetizer I know, which makes it fabulous for summer when I don’t want to spend too much time in my hot kitchen– it’s definitely a throw and go kind of thing so you can stay away from the oven. And, if it happens to be just too hot to turn on your oven, you can take this one outside and throw the packet on the grill! And regardless of the time of year, for entertaining purposes you can’t argue with a recipe you can prepare in advance (in 5 minutes) and then store in its own packet in the fridge until you’re ready, then just pop it on some heat for 15 minutes and it’s ready to serve. Add bread and it’ll be a snap when guests arrive to keep yourself out of the kitchen and at the table, snacking away with everyone else.
We adored the simple, flavorful combo of olive oil, garlic, chili flakes, tomato, red onion, and basil (plus some chives for good measure) cozying up with melty feta in our packet, but there are plenty of ways you could adapt this simple appetizer idea. You could substitute different herbs (go with mint, or oregano, or maybe even cilantro), and there are surely other things you could put in the packet– the original recipe, for example, calls for capers and tomato paste, which I omitted. I was so enamored with the flavors of the add-ins we tried that I hardly feel like straying right now, but I’m thinking some good olives would be a welcome friend of the feta, maybe some roasted red peppers or sun dried tomatoes (I’m not a fan of either but I imagine they would go nicely), or maybe you could even bake the feta on a bed of some chopped up pre-cooked vegetables like zucchini, asparagus, or broccoli, or some wilted spinach to hearken to spanakopita. And when it comes time to serve your packet, bread is a great way to go, but the sheer number of recipes for watermelon feta salads I’ve run into recently would suggest that it might be pretty delicious to bring a feta packet to a barbecue, warm it on the grill, and then spoon a little of the contents over a slice of fresh watermelon rather than a hunk of bread. Or try something more solid for dipping, like a pita chip? The possibilities, really, can extend as far as your imagination can take you.
I don’t really have anything else to say about this recipe, except that I can’t recommend hard enough that you go get some feta right now and make it. You’ll notice there are no photos of it once it came out of the oven, because I was too distracted by my quest to eat it immediately that I forgot about the camera completely. I bookmarked this recipe a year ago and I’m kind of hating myself for waiting so long. Don’t repeat my mistake.
Note: the original recipe suggests making four individual packets, but as long as you’re going to be serving this like a dip or spread over chunks of bread I don’t see any reason not to save yourself some foil and trouble and space on the grill by cramming as much as you want to serve into one family-style packet. I would feel comfortable doubling the amounts I’m listing here and still cooking it in one packet, but if you prefer a presentation of a few individual packets, by all means go for it.
1 large sheet aluminum foil
1 slab of feta, about 1/4 lb (ask your cheese steward for a feta recommendation– we procured a nice creamy israeli feta and it was incomparably better than grocery store blocks)
drizzle of olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
sprinkle of red pepper flakes, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
1 roma tomato
1/4 medium red onion, chopped
4 or 5 basil leaves, chiffonaded or chopped
To assemble the packets, lay your aluminum foil out on the counter and place your block(s) of feta in the middle (we got our feta in kind of a large cube, so I sliced in in half and made two slabs– I’d recommend a thickness between 1/2 inch and 1 inch). The order of layering your toppings is pretty much up to you, and it’s all going to infuse inside the packet and get mixed up when you spread it on bread, but I like to start by drizzling the feta with a touch of olive oil, then top it with the garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper, and then I throw the bigger stuff on top for color (the onions, tomato, and finally the pretty green ribbons of basil), and if it needs it, give it another drizzle of oil and grinding of black pepper. In any case, get your tasty stuff in with the feta somehow and you’re good.
When you’ve got things assembled, you can fold the foil into a packet and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. If you’re heating it in the oven, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake for 15 minutes or until it’s melty to your liking. (If you happen to have something else in the oven that needs a specific, different temperature, you can still put the packets in and just be prepared to edit the cooking time a bit and just check on it earlier or later.)
If you’re doing this on the grill, just throw it on alongside whatever else is being grilled and adjust the cooking time (anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes, usually) based on the heat of the grill. Just peek in the packet and when it’s looking melty and smelling good, you’re ready to go. Serve with warm bread or pita chips, or try spooning it over slices of watermelon if you’re adventurous.