This came about because I was just talking to my Greek friend about what he makes for dinner. He hailed the simplicity of pasta olio with feta. The dish is exactly that: pasta and oil. With feta. And I realized that feta — though not my favorite cheese for snacking, salads, and cheese plates — is one of my secrets for any application when it might be melted. In pasta dishes, it adds a layer of cheesy complexity, brought on mainly from its melty state.
When feta melts, it retains its sharp, salty bite but becomes luxuriously creamy, thereby imparting a super rich quality to whatever it accompanies. So while feta isn't the typical topper for pasta, like a parmesan or pecorino, there's no reason it shouldn't be. What I love most is that while a parm or pec adds cheesiness without changing much of the actual base flavor the dish, feta will change it entirely. And for the better.
Imagine a carbonara topped with feta, the richness of the eggs tempered by the brininess of the cheese. Or a simple tomato sauce, spiked with an edgy stir-in of feta. Putanesca, cacio e pepe, pesto, amatriciana, bolognese or primavera. All made better — and more to the point, different — with some feta.
It's like a quicky trick that'll double your repertoire of pasta dishes, just like that. It's almost like making any sauce into a cream sauce, but instead of a milky coating, the result is more dynamic. More cheesy.
And the best part is that feta lasts forever. Truly. Forever. It's held in a brine, so imagine the shelf life of a pickle or a caper. Almost infinite. So keep feta in the back of your fridge for any moment when a bit of pasta calls your name. Or for that matter, any sauce.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop. Until recently she was a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show. She is currently a freelance food stylist and recipe developer in New York.
(Image: Faith Durand)