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Dorothy Dean presents: Effortless baked feta pasta – from TikTok and Finland to the U.S.

UPDATED: Mon., April 12, 2021

By Audrey Alfaro For The Spokesman-Review

Lockdown had us cozy at home living in our pajamas and binge-watching all of Netflix. And in between episodes of “Tiger King,” slathering on hand sanitizer and searching for toilet paper, we were in the kitchen.

Whether we liked it or not, quarantine forced us to tap into our inner chef. That led to a lot of nailed it and failed it moments – and a lot of experimenting, some ending in viral food trends, including cloud bread, Dalgona coffee, pancake cereal and ice cream bread, to name a few.

TikTok was the main platform where these recipes spread like wildfire. Having tried a few, I approach them with skepticism but am usually happily surprised.

The latest trend taking social media by storm is baked feta pasta, or TikTok pasta. This one was an easy sell: tomatoes, cheese and pasta – ah, yes, please!

Amassing millions of views, this simple dish was first made popular in Finland by blogger Jenni Häyrinen. A year after fellow Finnish blogger Tiiu Piret posted a version in 2018, Häyrinen posted a simplified version, which went viral in her country – and feta ran out in stores.

Wanting to share it in English and bring it stateside, MacKenzie Smith, the blogger behind Grilled Cheese Social, posted yet another rendition on her TikTok.

Her video has more than 3 million views and, close to breaking the internet, the #bakedfetapasta hashtag has a whopping 102 million views and counting.

I think what has everyone intrigued with baked feta pasta is how surprisingly delicious it is for how effortless it is to make.

This is the method: Cherry tomatoes, garlic and a block of feta are tossed with olive oil and baked until tender. The bursting tomatoes and golden feta are then mixed together, creating a lusciously creamy sauce, then fresh basil and pasta are stirred in to complete the dish.

Easy, right?! And what’s not to love with a bowl full of creamy, salty and tomato-y carbs.

Plain feta or feta that is seasoned/flavored are both fine to use. And I have read that feta made with sheep’s milk is smoother and creamier than that made of cow’s milk.

However, either will work. If you aren’t a feta fan, ricotta or cream cheese can be used instead. And if your sauce seems too thick, stirring in a splash of pasta water will help loosen it.

Cherry tomatoes work best with this recipe. They blister beautifully and are sweeter and juicer than grape tomatoes. So, only opt for grape if cherry can’t be found.

For the pasta, anything goes: orzo, bow tie, rigatoni, penne, macaroni or long pastas such as linguini or spaghetti.

To kick up the garlic flavor, stir it in after baking with the basil and pasta. For spice, sprinkle in red pepper flakes. Shallots, onions, olives, capers or other herbs and seasonings can be thrown in, too.

Proteins are another easy addition. Since the dish cooks at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, it gives ample time for chicken, shrimp or pancetta to cook alongside the roasting tomatoes. Or precooked proteins can be stirred in with the pasta.

Baked Feta Pasta

Adapted from iamafoodblog.com.

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, minced

⅓ cup olive oil

To taste: Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper

1 (7-8 ounce) block feta cheese

9-10 ounces pasta

Fresh basil, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish, combine the tomatoes and minced garlic with the olive oil. Season with the kosher salt and pepper and toss to combine. Place the feta in the middle and flip it to coat it in the oil. Bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, turn up the heat to 450 degrees and continue cooking until the tomatoes are bursting and the feta is golden on top, about 10-15 minutes.

While the feta is baking, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve ½ cup pasta water before draining.

When the feta and tomatoes are done, remove from the oven and stir to combine into a creamy sauce.

Stir in the drained pasta until well-coated, adding in a bit of pasta water to loosen if needed. Serve with fresh basil.

Audrey Alfaro can be reached at spoonandswallow@yahoo.com.

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