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Instant Gratification: Baked Feta with Thyme

Despite my recent foray into Southeast Asian cocktail catering, I’ve found myself doing lots of Mediterranean cooking this summer as well.

The region offers a dizzying array of dishes that are fast and light but don’t skimp on the flavor; perfect for easy entertaining on days when it’s so hot and sticky that the mere thought of hoisting more than a wine glass is exhausting.

And, while it’s beastly hot here in D.C., I find it’s always nice to have at least one hot dish on the table all the same. This is a lovely appetizer/snack that hits that hot, cheesy spot with amazing ease. It takes about 5 minutes to prep and since it’s just broiled briefly, it doesn’t even heat up the kitchen–just the thing for a random weeknight cocktail guests.

It’s lovely on its own with quick pre-dinner drinks, but you could just as easily add a few more things for a quite respectable spread and forget dinner altogether: olives, baba ghanouj, various salumi-type things, stuffed grape leaves, and the like (most of which are easily purchase-able).

Oh, and don’t be weirded out by the rather agressive amount of jalapeno, the broiler tames their heat and all you’re left with a lilting spicy tingle. You’ll need to find yourself a nice, shallow, oven-safe dish that will snugly accomodate the cheese in a single layer. I generally use a 10″ square dish with a low rim and it’s perfect.

Baked Feta
Yield: a nice pre-dinner nibble for 6-8

1 lb block Greek feta
1 1/2 jalapeno peppers
fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Place an oven rack 6-8 inches from the broiler and preheat on low.

Cut the feta into 1cm slices, then into bite-sized triangles. I like to vary the size and shape a bit to give the plate some visual flair–acute, obtuse, isoceles. Let your inner geometrician go wild. Arrange on your oven-safe dish in a relatively tight, but jumbled, single layer.

Halve and seed the jalapenos, then cut the halves lengthwise into quarters. Cut the quarters into thin slices. Sprinkle evenly over the feta.

Remove the thyme leaves from the stems until you’ve got about… 3 tsp of leaves. It’s a pain in the butt, but worth it. Sprinkle the thyme over the feta as well. Grind over a good bit of black pepper and the drizzle it all with the olive oil.

Put the dish in the preheated oven and broil for about six or seven minutes. Check frequently as broilers vary greatly. Once the liquids are abubble and the tips of the cheese are nicely browned, remove from the oven and serve with crackers or pita. Make sure you’ve got a trivet for the hot dish and warn your guests.

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