Roast a block of feta and the first time you taste it, you'll wonder, Why did I waste so much of my life eating baked brie? Spreadably soft, with a tangy, salty, rich flavor, baked feta is easy to make and almost impossible to resist. Adding a sweet compote of dried figs simmered with honey and fresh thyme rounds out the flavors and turns a humble starter into a knock-out appetizer that is pretty enough for any party.
As a hostess, cheese platters bore me. I'm always more excited about making an unusual cheese-based appetizer -- like a modern cheese ball or a plate of gougères -- than I am about choosing a few types of cheese to put on a plate. You can call me a bad cheese person, I don't mind. I'll be too busy stuffing my face with roasted feta and fig compote to hear you.
Buying a good brined feta is key for this recipe; it's that salty, almost pickled flavor that makes the dish so interesting. I use the Greek feta cheese in brine from Trader Joe's, which is packaged as two thinner rectangular slabs that I cut into squares and stack on top of each other. This works just fine, so if you can only find slabs of feta instead of blocks, all is not lost.
This recipe makes more compote than you'll need for one block of cheese. Eat the leftovers for breakfast over yogurt, oatmeal or pancakes, or as a dessert, topped with a little whipped cream or honey-sweetened Greek yogurt. Or hey, roast another block of feta and throw another party. The world needs more parties in honor of cheese.
Roasted Feta Cheese with Fig-Thyme Compote
1 cup (about 5 ounces) dried Mission figs, quartered 1 cup water 2 tablespoons honey 3 sprigs thyme, plus more for garnish 8-ounce block brined feta cheese, drained and blotted dry 1 teaspoon olive oil Toast rounds or crackers, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a small pan over medium-high heat, combine the figs, water, honey and thyme and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the figs to a bowl. Boil the remaining syrup until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Discard thyme sprigs and pour syrup over figs.
Meanwhile, rub olive oil over all surfaces of the feta and place the cheese in a small oven-proof dish. Bake for 15 minutes, until warm and quite soft to the touch, but not melted. Spoon about one-third of the compote over feta, garnish with thyme sprigs, and serve immediately with toast or crackers. (Cover remaining compote and refrigerate for up to one week.)
As the cheese cools, it will become more firm. If you would like to soften it again, pop it back in a 400°F oven for five minutes, compote and all.
The leftover compote can be spooned over yogurt, oatmeal or ice cream, or topped with whipped cream and eaten as a not-to-sweet dessert.