In winter, feta becomes an orphan, a forgotten cheese. Unless you’re basking in the Greek Isles surrounded by plump tomatoes and cukes, you skip over feta in favor of triple crèmes, butterscotchy Goudas, balsa wood boxes of Epoisses. Am I right?
I’m here to negotiate in favor of feta. If you bake it with honey and dates, you’ve got an easy appetizer, a succulent puff of briny softness, a winter warmer, if you will. I love an island of baked feta accompanied by dried fruit, a handful of walnuts, a sprig of thyme, and some homemade pita chips.
This is a good dish to serve on a cold afternoon when houseguests are restless, or it works well before a big dinner (especially if you’re serving lamb) when you need to distract people away from the kitchen. It looks impressive, and the combination of sweet and salty puts everyone in a good mood.
Most of the ingredients are easy to keep on hand – even the feta, which holds up in the fridge for a year or more as long as you store it in brine. Give the cheese a quick rinse to wash some of the salt off, and put this dish together in twenty minutes.
I like to bake my own pita chips; they keep well if you make them a few days in advance and store them in an airtight bag, or you can make them alongside the feta and serve them hot. This recipe requires a couple of steps, but they’re simple. Just make sure to keep your eye on the broiler so that the honey-glazed feta doesn’t burn.
Note: Greek feta, made with sheep’s and goat’s milk, is firm and will hold its shape. I’ve also made this recipe with pure goat’s milk feta which is softer; the taste is exquisite, but it tends to melt more quickly, so don’t bake it too long.
Baked Feta with Dates and Honey
- 1 8 oz. block of Greek feta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons honey
- 6-8 dates, preferably Medjool
- 1/2 cup shelled walnuts (optional)
- Sprig of fresh thyme
- Black pepper
For pita chips:
- 2 pita rounds, sliced into pie wedges and separated
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Sea salt
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Rinse feta under tap water and pat it dry, then set it in a lightly oiled baking dish. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top, and set the timer for 8 minutes – the feta should soften but not melt.
- If you’re making homemade pita chips, spread them out on a cookie sheet and sprinkle them with sea salt and a tablespoon of oil – it’s easy if you use a basting brush for this. Then pop the pita slices in the oven alongside the baking feta. The edges of the pita will brown in about 8 minutes, too.
- Remove the feta (and the pita chips) from the oven, and turn the oven dial to broil. Halve the dates and remove the pits, then line the edge of the baking dish with date halves, cut-side down. Drizzle honey over the top of the feta and sprinkle walnuts around the edges.
- Broil the feta 4-6 minutes, or until it browns; watch it carefully so that it doesn’t burn. Garnish the black pepper and fresh thyme; serve hot with pita chips or baguette.
- Makes 4-6 servings.
For more recipes and cheese pleas, visit Madame Fromage.