Baked Feta & Tomato Pasta with Basil

I first heard about this spectacularly easy viral pasta dish from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. I think I was the last to know… My daughter has seen countless people make it on TikTok, of course. 😉 She was absolutely thrilled to make it with me!

The original recipe is called “Uunifetapasta,” created by the Finnish blogger Jenni Häyrinen. The foundation of the dish is a block of feta placed in the center of a baking dish surrounded by seasoned tomatoes. After being baked, the cheese and burst tomatoes are combined to create a creamy and delicious sauce to serve over pasta. Deb Perelman incorporated chickpeas in her version- nice.

This version from the Washington Post, contributed by Aaron Hutcherson, recommended using Greek sheep’s milk feta to maximize the creaminess. I used an enameled cast iron baking pan, modified the proportions and incorporated za’atar to the seasoning on the tomatoes prior to baking. It was super creamy and tasty- and as simple and easy to prepare as expected.

Yield: Serves 6

  • 3 pints (750 to 800 g) grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 5 large garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
  • 8 T (1/2 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 block (10.5 oz) Greek feta cheese
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • za’atar, to taste, optional
  • 17 to 18 oz medium-length dried pasta, such as campanile, rigatoni, or rotini (I used Gigli)
  • fresh basil leaves, for serving
  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, combine the tomatoes, garlic and 6 tablespoons of the olive oil. (I used an enameled cast iron baking pan.)
  3. Sprinkle the tomatoes with some salt and toss to coat. Sprinkle with za’atar, if using.
  4. Place the feta cheese in the center of the tomatoes and garlic, top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle the entire dish with red pepper flakes and a little black pepper.
  5. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the garlic has softened and the tomatoes have burst their skins.
  6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta.
  7. Remove the baking dish from the oven and stir the feta and tomatoes with a wooden spoon until evenly combined. Taste and adjust seasoning, as necessary.
  8. Mix the sauce with pasta, adding the reserved pasta water as needed if it looks a little dry. (I incorporated quite a bit of pasta water.)
  9. To serve, top with plenty of basil leaves.

Tunisian Chickpea Soup (Lablabi)

I am a big fan of toppings, so this creamy, earthy, and hearty vegetarian soup caught my eye. It is served over toasted chunks of bread and then garnished with crunchy, spiced chickpeas, lemon zest, parsley, a sprinkle of cumin, and a drizzle of olive oil. I also loved that the soup incorporated a little spice from harissa.

This recipe was adapted from Cool Beans by Joe Yonan, via The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used a stove top pressure cooker to cook the beans which significantly expedited the cooking process. I also served the soup over toasted sourdough boule chunks in lieu of rustic bread. Great.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

For the Crispy Chickpeas:

  • 1 3/4 cup cooked chickpeas, or 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon za’atar, plus more to taste

For the Soup:

  • 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 loaf hearty rustic bread (about 6 to 8 ounces)(I used 1/2 of a sourdough boule)
  • 1 cup chopped onion, from 1 medium onion
  • 6 to 8 large garlic cloves, minced or finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon harissa paste, plus more for serving
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 large lemon (about 3 T)
  • finely grated zest of 1 large lemon (about 1 T), for serving
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, for serving

To Prepare the Crispy Chickpeas:

  1. Transfer the rinsed and drained canned chickpeas to a rimmed baking sheet lined with a clean dish towel or paper towels.
  2. Cover with another towel (or paper towels) on top, rubbing gently to dry.
  3. Remove top towel and let air-dry for at least 30 minutes and preferably 1 hour. (I let them dry for 2+ hours.)

To Prepare the Soup:

  1. In a pressure cooker (I used a stove-top pressure cooker), combine soaked chickpeas, 5 cups water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, bay leaves and 1/2 teaspoon salt over high heat. (Alternatively, use a Dutch oven or heavy stockpot.)
  2. Place the pot over high heat, until the pressure cooker reaches the second ring (high). Adjust the heat to maintain the pressure for 35 minutes. (If using a stockpot, bring to a boil for 2 to 3 minutes, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until chickpeas are tender, about 1 to 2 hours.)
  3. Remove from the heat and let the pressure release naturally.
  4. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (I set my oven to convection roast.)
  5. While chickpeas are cooking, cut bread into thick slices, then tear or cut slices into bite-size pieces.
  6. Place bread in one layer on large rimmed baking sheet and toast until crisp and light brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool on pan and set aside.
  7. Finish the crunchy chickpeas: Raise oven temperature to 425 degrees. (I set my oven to convection roast.)
  8. Remove the towels from baking sheet with the chickpeas, and toss the chickpeas with 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and za’atar until well coated.
  9. Roast until golden and crispy, about 13 to 18 minutes, tossing halfway through. When chickpeas are still hot, sprinkle lightly with more salt. Taste and add more salt or za’atar, or both, as desired.
  10. When the chickpeas for the soup are tender, discard bay leaves.
  11. Using a slotted spoon, transfer 2 cups of chickpeas, 1/2 cup of chickpea cooking liquid and 1/4 cup olive oil to a blender or food processor, and purée until smooth. (I used a Vitamix.)
  12. In a large skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering.
  13. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  14. Add garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes.
  15. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon cumin and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute. Add a splash of the chickpea cooking liquid to the pan, and bring to a simmer to deglaze, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Turn off heat.
  16. Add chickpea purée and onion mixture to soup, along with harissa and lemon juice, and stir well. Add a little water if soup seems too thick, and more salt, if needed.
  17. To serve, divide toasted bread pieces among soup bowls, then ladle in soup.
  18. Garnish with lemon zest, parsley, olive oil, more cumin and some of the crispy chickpeas — you’ll have leftovers. Serve hot, with more harissa on the side, as desired.

Sheet Pan Za’atar Chicken with Garlicky Yogurt

Yes! I have many more weeknight chicken dishes to share. This one uses the genius technique of incorporating pan juices to create an incredible sauce with za’atar, coriander, and citrus.

This wonderful dish was reminiscent of a deconstructed gyro. It would also be incredible served with tomatoes, cucumbers and naan or pita. I served it with green salad, roasted potatoes, and asparagus.

The recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Aaron Crowder, Katie Jackson, and Nick Perkins. I used a sheet pan, substituted boneless, skinless chicken thighs for bone-in, and modified the proportions in the sauce. Fabulous!

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 4 chicken legs (thigh and drumstick; about 2½ lbs total)
  • 1 or2 medium red onions, cut into 1″-thick wedges
  • 2 heads of garlic, halved crosswise, plus 2 cloves
  • 1 to 1 1/2 lemons, quartered, seeds removed
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups plain whole-milk Greek yogurt (2% Greek yogurt also okay)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 T za’atar
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest or 1/2 T lemon juice (can use the juice of a roasted lemon wedge, if desired)
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest or 1/2 T lime juice
  • sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, for serving, optional
  • warm naan or pita, for serving, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 325°, preferably on convection.
  2. Pat chicken meat dry with paper towels. Arrange chicken, onions, halved garlic heads, and lemon on a rimmed sheet pan or in a 13×9″ baking dish; season liberally with salt and pepper (remember to season both sides of chicken).
  3. Pour in oil and toss everything to coat.
  4. Turn garlic cut side down and nestle it in so it is in contact with the baking dish.
  5. Roast, “skin side down,” rotating pan halfway through, for 20 minutes if using boneless meat. Roast until meat is almost falling off the bone (if using bone-in meat), 50–60 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, finely grate 1 garlic clove into a small bowl. Add yogurt, a big pinch of salt, and 1 Tbsp. water and mix well. Set aside yogurt sauce.
  7. Remove baking dish from oven and transfer onions, garlic, and lemon to a plate. If using boneless, skinless meat, flip the chicken meat to roast on the opposite side.
  8. Increase oven temperature to 425° and continue to roast chicken until skin is golden brown, 10–15 minutes more.
  9. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. Set aside pan with juices.
  10. Finely grate remaining garlic clove into another small bowl. Add za’atar, coriander, lemon zest or juice, and lime zest or juice.
  11. Pour reserved juices in pan into za’atar mixture until you’ve reached an oily consistency (about 3T). Mix in a pinch of salt.
  12. Spread reserved yogurt sauce over a platter and arrange chicken on top. (Alternatively, if serving the chicken with flatbread, the yogurt can be served on the side.)
  13. Scatter onions, garlic, and lemon around the chicken; drizzle with za’atar oil.
  14. Serve with flatbread, cucumbers and tomatoes, if desired.

Za’atar Chicken Schnitzel with Israeli Salad

I made all of these sautéed chicken dishes months apart, but it seems right to share them at the same time. 🙂

My Austrian sister-in-law has traditional schnitzel with freshly made mayonnaise and cucumber salad for dinner every Christmas Eve. It is absolutely delicious. I loved this Middle Eastern variation.

This recipe was adapted from Bringing it Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating by Gail Simmons with Mindy Fox. I substituted chicken thighs for chicken cutlets and cooked the dish in a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Perfect.

This schnitzel would also be wonderful served as a sandwich in a pita with hummus.

Yield: Serves 4

For the Israeli Salad:

  • 1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
  • 1/2 English cucumber, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
  • 1/2 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp za’atar
  • 1 tsp sumac, optional
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

For the Schnitzel:

  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup panko
  • 1 1/2 T za’atar
  • freshly grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 4 chicken cutlets, about 1 pound
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • lemon wedges, for serving

To start the salad:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the bell pepper, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, parsley, and mint.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the schnitzel:

  1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Place an ovenproof platter or a baking sheet int he oven to warm.
  2. In a wide, shallow bowl, stir together the flour, 1 tsp salt, and a generous pinch of pepper.
  3. In another shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs and a pinch of salt.
  4. In a third shallow bowl, combine the panko, za’atar, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt.
  5. Place each piece of chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat pounder or a rolling pin, gently pound each piece of chicken to 1/4-inch thickness.
  6. Pat the meat dry and season both sides lightly with salt and pepper.
  7. Dredge in the seasoned flour, shaking off excess.
  8. Dip in the eggs, letting excess drip off, then gently press into the panko mixture to completely coat.
  9. Transfer the chicken to a large plate.
  10. Heat the 1/2 cup of oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium to medium-high heat, until hot but not smoking. (I used a cast iron skillet over medium heat.)
  11. Fry the chicken in 2 batches, turning once, until cooked through and crispy, about 2-3 minutes per side.
  12. Drain each batch on paper towel-lined plates, season with salt, then transfer to the platter in the oven to keep warm.

To finish the salad:

  1. Add the 2 T oil, lemon juice, za’atar, sumac, and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper to the vegetable mixture.
  2. Toss to combine.

To serve:

  1. Serve the schnitzel with the salad piled on top (or vice versa!) with lemon wedges on the side.

Ottolenghi’s Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

I knew that I had to make this as a special appetizer after seeing it on Chef Mimi’s blog. It sounded so interesting- a baba ghanoush without eggplant or tahini, but with zucchini, yogurt, and Roquefort cheese. The charred zucchini resembled bananas when they were peeled; cooking it this way gave it smokiness.

It may not be absolutely beautiful, but it was absolutely delicious. Ottolenghi describes its appearance as “rather like a volcanic eruption.” 🙂 It was a little bit time-consuming to prepare, but was worth every bit of time and effort.

This recipe was adapted from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi. I used French whole milk plain yogurt instead of goat’s milk yogurt and used regular chile flakes instead of Urfa chile flakes. I also crumbled the cheese rather than grating it. I definitely plan to make it again- we loved it. Incredible.

Yield: Serves 6 as a starter or as part of a mezze selection

  • 5 large zucchini (about 2.75 pounds/1.2 kg)
  • 1/3 cup (80 g) plain whole milk yogurt
  • 2 T (15 g) coarsely crumbled Roquefort cheese
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 T (15 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 T (20 g) pine nuts
  • pinch of chile flakes
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed in a garlic press
  • 1/2 tsp za’atar, to finish
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • warm naan, for serving
  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Place the zucchini on a baking sheet lined with foil and broil for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice during the cooking, until the skin crisps and browns nicely.
  3. Remove from the oven and, once cool enough to handle, peel off the zucchini skin, discard it, and set the flesh aside in a colander to drain. The zucchini can be served warm or at room temperature.
  4. Put the yogurt in a small saucepan with the Roquefort and egg. Heat very gently for about 3 minutes, stirring often. You want the yogurt to heat through but not quite reach the simmering point. Set aside and keep warm.
  5. Melt the butter in a small sauté pan with the pine nuts over low heat and cook, stirring often, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the nuts turn golden brown. Stir in the chile flakes and lemon juice and set aside.
  6. Put the zucchini in a bowl and add the garlic, a scant 1/2 tsp coarse salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Gently mash everything together with a fork and then spread the mixture out on a large serving platter.
  7. Spoon the warm yogurt sauce on top, followed by a drizzle of the warm chile butter and the pine nuts.
  8. Finish with a sprinkle of za’atar and serve at once with warm naan.

One Year Ago: Vegetarian Harira

Two Years Ago: Mushroom Spinach Soup with Middle Eastern Spices

Three Years Ago: Orecchiette with Carrot-Hazelnut Pesto

Four Years Ago: Saffron Pappardelle with Moroccan Spiced Shallot-Butter Sauce and  Clams Casino

Five Years Ago: Israeli Couscous with Spinach & Onions

Sheet Pan Roasted Chicken with Za’atar, Potatoes, & Greens

This sheet pan meal was a healthy and delicious weeknight dish. I especially loved that the kale was even wilted under a broiler on a sheet pan. The entire dish is made in one oven on two sheet pans- great.

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of bone-in and adapted the cooking method.

Yield: Serves 6

  • 4 teaspoons za’atar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 10 boneless, skinless (about 2.5 to 3 pounds) chicken thighs and drumsticks
  • 1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • 1 bunch (8 to 10 ounces) laminate or Tuscan kale (cut into 2-inch pieces), or baby kale, spinach, or arugula (about 4 packed cups)
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. In a small bowl, mix za’atar with 2 tablespoons oil and 2 teaspoons salt.
  3. Rub za’atar mixture all over chicken. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Add lemon halves
  4. Toss onion wedges with 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper; add to baking sheet along with chicken pieces and lemon halves.
  5. Roast in the center of the oven until a thermometer inserted into thickest parts of chicken registers about 150 degrees, about 20 minutes, flipping half way through the cooking process.
  6. On a second parchment paper-lined, rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper.
  7. Roast simultaneously in the lower third of oven, stirring once, until starting to brown, about 20 minutes.
  8. Remove potatoes from the oven.
  9. Switch oven to broiler setting. (I put my oven on Convection-Broil-Max at 450 degrees.)
  10. Move baking sheet to upper third of oven; broil until chicken is browned, 2 to 3 minutes.
  11. Drizzle kale lightly with oil or pan drippings; season with salt and pepper. Scatter kale over chicken and broil until just wilted and thermometer inserted into thickest parts of chicken registers 165 degrees, 1 to 2 minutes more.
  12. Let cool slightly, then squeeze lemon halves over chicken.
  13. Remove kale to a platter, place chicken on top; toss remaining vegetables together and serve alongside.

One Year Ago:

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Salad-Topped Hummus Platter

The culmination of my daughter’s summer theatre camp involves days of dress rehearsals followed by matinée and evening performances. She absolutely loves it all and it is worth every second, but it was also difficult to prepare and eat dinner during this time. That’s show business, right? 😉

This genius quick, healthy, and filling appetizer turned dinner saved the day the evening of her final performance. The recipe was adapted from Ina Garten via Smitten Kitchen.com. I made my favorite hummus, added arugula, used a peeled CSA cucumber, and substituted red wine vinegar for lemon juice in the dressing. I could eat it all summer long!

  • 2 cups prepared hummus
  • 2 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 1/2 cups (8 ounces or 225 grams) grape tomatoes, quartered, plus more to taste
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, or multiple small cucumbers, unpeeled, chopped
  • 1/4 medium red onion, chopped small, optional
  • 1 T red wine vinegar or juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 tsp sumac
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, or a mix of parsley, mint, and chives, plus more for garnish
  • 2 large handfuls baby arugula, to taste
  • warm naan or pita, for serving
  1. Prepare hummus in a food processor.
  2. Spread hummus on a large plate with the back of a spoon, creating swirls and cavities. Drizzle it lightly with olive oil, just to freshen it up.
  3. Mix tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, red wine vinegar/lemon juice, about 2 tablespoons olive oil, sumac, plus salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.
  4. Stir in herbs.
  5. Top hummus with arugula. Heap salad on top of the arugula. Finish with additional sumac and/or fresh herbs.
  6. Serve with warm naan or pita wedges.

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