Vacations revolve around food for us. There’s usually a list of must-try restaurants in a new city and probably a market or two. Other attractions are scheduled around brunch and dinner. You too, right?
But meals comes into focus when we’re playing host as well. Friends or family taking a trip to visit us means offering up good eats and good drinks.
I took Friday off to hang out with Danny’s mom, Kathy, who was visiting for a few days. The day started with a leisurely breakfast at a nearby cafe, which always makes it feel like vacation. Even if it’s not my trip.
For lunch, we arranged a fruit and cheese platter and later that night we grilled bison for the first time. There were three kinds of really good ice cream for dessert. Whiskey and Pecans. Dark Chocolate. Salty Caramel.
All good, yes, but I couldn’t let the trip end without making the recipe we’d bookmarked a few weeks ago. Kathy has a monster sweet tooth, but cheese always shows up on the table when we’re together, too. We first made baked feta more than a year ago. It was broiled, salty, and topped simply with almonds.
Now, we stepped it up with a blackberry and rosemary compote thanks to Food52. The steps are simple and the ingredients can be modified if needed. 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.
I’m thinking this could serve about 6 or 8 people waiting with drinks before the meal, but it’s hard to stop at one or two bites. How’d we do? Well, count the forks.
baked feta with blackberry and rosemary compote
This little appetizer doesn’t ask too much of you but it really delivers. It’s a beautiful presentation and tastes as good as it looks. Feel free to use another berry or thyme instead of rosemary. Serve with crackers, preferably rosemary. And if you’re looking for a project, you can try to make your own feta.
blackberry and rosemary 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
In the center of a small square of cheese cloth (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 cheese cloth 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 cheese cloth pouch and serve the compote. It can also be kept in the fridge overnight.
a 16-ounce block of feta cheese
Heat the oven to 400° F.
Cut the block of cheese in half lengthwise. Arrange 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. Adapted from Food52.