Kent Torrey, proprietor of The Cheese Shop in Carmel, isn’t hip to the social media platform TikTok and hadn’t seen the recipe video I was asking about as I attempted to interrogate him about the feta situation.
If you are similarly not hip to TikTok, there’s a possibility you haven’t seen the video either.
So take a moment, open a browser window and search “feta pasta TikTok.” Choose one of the 103,000 videos that will result from that search (pretty much any one will do, doesn’t have to be on TikTok) and watch it.
Not computer inclined? Here’s the explanation for why I was trying to interrogate Torrey about feta.
Empty a container (or two – there’s really no rule here) of cherry tomatoes in an oven-safe baking dish. Pour over olive oil (you be the judge of how much – I can’t tell you how to live your lives), throw in a little or a lot of minced garlic, give it a stir and then sprinkle it all with salt and pepper (use Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, please, because while I can’t tell you how to live your lives, I can judge your salt and pepper choices). In the center of the cherry tomatoes, nestle a whole block of feta. Pour over a bit more oil, give it more salt and pepper and then season the living daylights out of it with chili flakes, dried oregano and basil. Throw it into an oven preheated to 400 degrees and let it sit there, melting together, for anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes. I’d go 40. Turn on the broiler and give that bone-white feta some nice color. Just a few minutes should do it.
While you wait for the roasting magic to happen, boil some pasta. Again, you choose the type. I’m an orecchiette fan, you might prefer penne. There’s no rule. Once cooked, drain the pasta but save a cup of the pasta water, because you’re not a savage and you’re going to need it. Then take that dish of feta and tomatoes out of the oven, and start mashing the cheese and tomatoes together. Use a fork. Use two forks. Once it’s the consistency I like to think of as glop, add in the pasta and the pasta water – the starch from the water helps bind the sauce to the noodles – and stir it all together until well combined. Top with fresh basil, maybe a dash or two of chili flakes and marvel at the thing you’ve created that can feed an entire household for not a lot of money and an almost total lack of effort.
That’s it. That’s the whole of the recipe that created a feta shortage in Finland, where a Finnish blogger is credited with creating the dish in 2018. Between then and now, as recounted in a Washington Post story from earlier this month, a U.S. TikToker with the handle “grilledcheesesocial” posted her own feta pasta video in January, and the recipe went viral once again; her video alone has more than 3 million views.
It’s also inspired any number of variations. Don’t like feta? Make it with burrata or goat cheese! Can’t find decent tomatoes? Make it with mushrooms or squash or kale or all of the above! It’s baked pasta anarchy!
Torrey asked shop manager Katie Glitz if she’d noted any run on feta. Walk-in customers aren’t necessarily buying more of it, but restaurants are, she tells him. And two of the shop’s three feta distributors were out of feta altogether this past week.
“She had to go to that third source, and that could mean people have been seeing the video and buying it,” he says.
Not everyone is thrilled with the results. Of some acquaintances who have made it, one says it wasn’t worth all the carbs. Another says it was too salty. Still another says it was woefully under-seasoned and could benefit from the addition of kimchi.
But my favorite take is from Christine Najjar (on TikTok as @itsmetinx), a Stanford University graduate and bona fide influencer (with almost 900,000 followers) whose obsessions include fashion, the Kardashians and a Los Angeles grocery store called Erewhon. Earlier this month, she did her own video in which she does an impression of feta cheese as an influencer.
“Oh in the pasta? Yeah, that’s me,” she says. “I actually didn’t know the tomatoes that well before, but they’re cool. I mean, I guess I’m kinda like more important to the pasta but yeah, I like collabing with them.”