It was just a block of shrink-wrapped feta that was on sale at a local cafe/bodega. I picked it up on a whim, bought it, and carried it home in my purse. I don’t know what appealed to me about it- maybe that it wasn’t precious. It’s easy to get into a bubble sometimes, where I can get hand pulled mozzarella in bulk and assume everyone can find champaign vinegar. I’ve been spending some time in that bubble recently.
It wasn’t always that way. When I was a tween my parents somehow ended up with a subscription to Food and Wine magazine. My parents are many things, but “foodies” is not one of them. I read that magazine greedily. I wanted to go to the aprés ski parties in rustic modern mountain houses where they ate braised short ribs and hot chocolate affogato. I also wanted to know where in Sam Hill I was supposed to find adobo sauce and drinking chocolate that dotted those recipes. I know where to find both of those now. I’d still like an invite to the aprés ski parties.
It seems like in the past ten or so years our cultural interest and access to food has exploded. But this explosion was not evenly distributed. I get frustrated that it’s hard to find sumac or za’atar here in Minneapolis, and then get a text from my mom where she can find farro. And there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a recipe for, say, baked peaches that has the headline “Don’t even try to make this if your peaches are less than perfect.” Perfect peaches. What makes a peach perfect and where do I find them? And if I do find them is baking them, which is a clever trick to turn much-less-than-perfect fruit into almost-perfect fruit, really the preferable use for those perfect peaches than eating them over the sink with the juices running down your arms?
All of this is to say that I’ve been thinking a lot about food quality and food cost. We spend a slightly embarrassing amount on our grocery bill here, and are trying to cut down. It’s true that if you have top quality ingredients it’s easy to eat well. But it’s false that the only way to eat well is to have those top quality ingredients. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of creativity.
To whit, I made this marinated feta. I used the aforementioned block of shrink-wrapped feta- there was nothing fancy here. I chopped together garlic and mint, stirred with red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and olive oil, and poured over the block, then let it hang out in the fridge for 6 hours. The result is a flavor packed feta that’s far more elegant than its original incarnation. I tossed some pasta with this feta, chopped tomatoes, and the last of some roasted red peppers that had been hiding in the back of the fridge. Aaron made rice and beans, our customary pantry meal, and topped the whole mess with cubes of marinated feta, which brought a flavorful punch. I have plans to use the last bit as an omelette filling, but there’s a whole host of possibilities here. I think it’s fantastic with the first of the tomatoes (I’ve been choosing hydroponically grown tomatoes and feel no shame), and this could be a great component on a bruschetta or replacing the mozzarella in a caprese salad. This would also make a mean pizza topping, and I bet that blended with a bit more olive oil it would make a fantastic spread. And, of course, you could swap out the lemon peel for orange peel, the garlic for shallots, red pepper flake for your dried chili of choice, mint for almost any herb (but I bet oregano would be especially fantastic) or add in spices (saffron would be beautiful if you want to get spend-y) or pantry staples (anchovies or capers would be excellent).
one 8 ounce block of feta cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
small bunch of mint, chopped (about 1/4 cup chopped)
Place the feta in a small bowl or container where it can lay flat. In another small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and mint and whisk together well. Pour over the feta. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.