May it Please the Palate: Baked Feta is easy to make

In my fantasy life, I will click my heels three times and be removed from the contention of practicing law, and I will open a Greek restaurant. I say this is a fantasy, because I still have to pay for a certain 15-year-old's college costs, not to mention her imminent car insurance policy. Nonetheless, a man can dream, can't he? I've gone as far as writing out the entire menu. Today's baked Feta recipe is one of the appetizers. It's something I've perfected in my own mind for years, but never actually attempted making until the other day. Happily, it's easy to make, and very tasty. Feta doesn't melt quite as oozily as other cheeses. The flaming "Opa" cheese you see in Greektown is typically Kasseri, harder than Feta, but like Feta, it's traditionally made with sheep's milk. Baked Feta doesn't get as liquidy as Kasseri, or, say, a baked Brie. But it does delightfully change character, and is versatile enough not only to spread on crusty bread or crackers, but also as it cools, to crumble onto salad, roast potatoes, or even roast meat. There are two ways to bake Feta. One is in ramekin or baking dish; the other is wrapped tightly in aluminum foil. In either case, give it a good pour of olive oil, and top it with herbs, vegetables, nuts, or whatever strikes your fancy. Here's the point where recipes are left to the discretion of the good cook. I've seen baked Feta recipes topped with sliced and diced tomatoes, peppers, Kalamata olives, garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, and various herbs. I've seen them slow baked for 10 minutes and broiled at high heat. I've tried a few different versions, and I'm sticking with the one in my dream. Nick's Dreamy Baked Feta 4 oz. slab o' sheep's milk Feta (I am quite happy with Trader Joe's) 2 TBS olive oil 1 tsp. thyme and 1/2 tsp. oregano, fresh if you can pinch of Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper 2 oz. or so pistachio nuts 1 Kalamata Olive Twist from Millpond Bakery (available at Ann Arbor Farmer's Market, or substitute a good Kalamata olive bread, or any crusty bread. 6 or so Kalamata olives, sliced (optional--if you do not have olive bread) * Preheat oven to 300. * Pour olive oil in baking dish or ramekin. Add Feta. * Top with thyme, oregano, and pepper, and optional olive slices * Place in oven on a large baking dish. While it is baking, shell pistachios and slice bread thinly. * After cheese has baked 5 minutes, add pistachios and bread slices to baking dish around the ramekin. * Bake 10 minutes more. Cheese will be soft but not super melty. * Top the cheese with the pistachios and serve with the bread crisps. If you want the cheese softer, bake another 5 minutes; but don't bake the pistachios and bread for longer than 10-12 minutes total. Any way you slice it, this is sublime perfection. I love the contrast of the crispy bread, tangy cheese, and crunchy nut. The pooled oil with "bits" at the bottom of the ramekin is also a treat, to be poured onto pretty much anything on your plate. All in all, you can see why it's such a dreamy appetizer. By the way, my dream also includes investors for my Greek restaurant. I see them coming to me in slow motion, smiling, showering me with money. I hear them telling me that they have been waiting for something to do with their earnings from the legal profession, not merely satisfied to support their families, or save for retirement. They tell me that after reading "May It Please the Palate," they finally know what to do with their hard-earned savings. In return, I promise them--as I promise you--my undying gratitude, as well as the occasional half-priced ouzo, in exchange for their financial backing. By the way, did you ever notice that email address at the end of my column? Drop me a line at nroumel, and I'll send you my banking information. As I said--a man can dream, can't he? Published: Thu, Aug 2, 2012