Cheese and crackers are fair game for entertaining, and I'd be pleased with a good Gouda or something triple cream and soft with fancy crackers. But why not step it up?
Dressing up a cheese platter doesn't take much more effort. The holidays are imminent, and I'd like to offer a trick to keep up your sleeve: Baked Feta With Blackberry and Rosemary Compote. Test it on a few friends this weekend and you'll have a go-to appetizer for the season.
The name may sound a little fancy, but the steps are straightforward and the ingredients can be modified if necessary. The results are dramatic. Feta, browned and barely held together, is topped with warm berries in a rich garnet syrup with hints of spices and herbs.
A compote is fruit gently cooked with spices and sugar until it releases some of its juice while the fruit still mostly holds its shape. It can be made ahead and stored in the fridge overnight. Gently reheat the compote in a saucepan the next day while you brown the feta in the oven, and this is an easy appetizer. Serve it on a white platter and it is stunning.
This baked feta was a hit at our home when Danny's mom visited for the weekend. She has a mean sweet tooth but we always seem to prepare a cheesy dish together, too. I'm thinking this would serve 6 to 8 people who are waiting for dinner with a drink in hand. Something to tide them over and keep them entertained with a couple bites until the main event. Or you could grab a few forks and dig in, which is what we did. In that case, it serves three.
Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Baked Feta With Blackberry and Rosemary Compote
Feel free to use another berry or swap in thyme for rosemary. The compote can be made ahead and kept in the fridge overnight. Gently reheat to serve with cheese.
For the compote:
3 black peppercorns
4 juniper berries (or a bay leaf if you can't get juniper)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 cups (1 pint) blackberries
For the baked feta:
16-ounce block of feta cheese
Make the compote: In the center of a small square of cheesecloth (6 x 6 inches would be enough), place the peppercorns, juniper berries and rosemary. Tie up the ends of the cloth to create a pouch. Place it into a medium saucepan along with the sugar, honey and berries. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, making sure to keep the cheesecloth pouch tucked under the berries in the center of the pan.
The blackberries will start to release some of their juices as they begin to simmer. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until some of the fruit breaks apart and the juices turn syrupy, about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally but don't make too much of an effort to break up the fruit. You want most of the berries to hold their shape.
Discard the cheesecloth pouch and serve the compote warm.
Make the feta: Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the block of cheese in half lengthwise. Lay the pieces in an ovenproof dish and brush them with olive oil.
Place the dish in the upper third of the oven and bake until the feta is softening, about 8 minutes. Turn on the oven's broiler setting and let the cheese keep cooking until the top is browning on top, 3 to 6 minutes or so. Keep an eye on it.
Carefully transfer the cheese blocks with an offset spatula to a serving platter (or keep the cheese in the same baking dish). Spoon the warm compote over the feta and serve immediately with crackers.
Serves 6 to 8.
Source: adapted from Food52