Feta cheese (Recipe: baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta)
When I was younger, I learned a lot of what I knew about boys in summer camp, from my girlfriends who had older siblings or whose mothers had had "the talk" before mine ever worked up the courage to give it a try.
Similarly, I learned a lot of what I knew about food from my friends who had grandparents and parents from Italy and Puerto Rico and the American South. Pasta and parmesan, enchiladas and chicken fried steak -- all were new to me.
I didn't know any kids from Greek families, though, so it took years before I learned about feta cheese.
Feta (pronounced FEH tah) is a white, salty curd cheese. In 2005, it received PDO (protected designation of origin) status as a uniquely Greek cheese, made from sheep's milk or a blend of up to 70 percent sheep's milk and 30 percent goat's milk. Feta made outside the European Union, or for export, is allowed to contain cow's milk.
Traditionally feta is made by heating unpasteurized milk mixed with rennet. The curds that form are drained to remove the whey; then the curds are cut and wrapped tightly in cheesecloth, which molds them into loose blocks of cheese. Under pressure, the blocks firm up (the word feta comes from the Italian fetta, meaning "slice"), and are placed in a salty brine to cure for six to eight weeks.
If the feta you buy is particularly salty, soak the cheese in fresh water for an hour to allow some of the brine to dissipate. Store feta in its original package, to retain moisture until you're ready to use it. Because it dries out rapidly when removed from the brine, please don't buy the packaged crumbled feta; the taste is a poor second to buying feta in a whole block and crumbling it yourself.
Whether you buy authentic Greek feta or good domestic feta (we're lucky to have artisanal feta made by Narragansett Creamery here in Rhode Island), you'll enjoy making your own marinated feta, or cooking it in a mushroom and feta breakfast casserole, crustless spinach, onion and feta quiche, pasta with cauliflower, walnuts and feta, or tomato, feta and oregano panini.
Baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta
Adapted slightly from Ellie Krieger's The Food You Crave, this makes a quick-and-easy elegant main dish, served over rice or orzo. Serves 8.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 28-oz cans diced tomatoes, with their juices
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 cup finely minced flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp minced fresh dill, or more to taste
2-1/2 lbs medium (31-40 size) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper, or more to taste
6 oz crumbled feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Heat the oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 5 minutes, or until the tomato juices thicken.
Remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley, dill, shrimp and black pepper. Taste the sauce, and add salt if needed. Sprinkle the feta over the top, and bake on the middle rack of the oven until the shrimp are cooked through and the cheese begins to soften, approximately 12 minutes. Serve hot or warm, over rice or orzo.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Warm salad of kamut, cranberries and feta
Quinoa salad with tomato, feta and parsley
Mexican tortilla and lime soup
Red lentil, spinach and feta salad
Tangerine and feta salad
(By the way, the white bowl is one of four that were a gift from, and were designed and made by, Ben, who graduated yesterday from Rhode Island School of Design. He won a very prestigious award for industrial design. Congratulations, Ben!)