Monday, January 07, 2008

Feta Attraction

Over the holidays, I came home from running errands one morning to find that UPS had attempted to deliver a package that needed my signature, leaving nothing behind for me except a notice.

I hadn't heard from anyone indicating that they had sent me a box, and there was no information on the slip, so I resigned myself to waiting for enlightenment.

On the day after New Year's, I managed to be around when UPS showed up, but as I was headed out the door with the lovely Phoenix, I simply looked at the label, remained just as baffled as before, and shoved the box into my apartment to consider later.

A few hours passed, and when I returned home, I investigated. The return address on the box was some company in New Jersey -- nothing I'd heard of, and nothing recognizable. I opened the box, and even the packing slip offered no clue and no gift note.

But as I sifted out the packaging, it became all too obvious who had sent me the box.

The items to emerge were a couple bars of chocolate and a box of chocolate truffles -- each of which were labeled in Cyrillic. And the final item in the box turned out to be a two-pound container of Bulgarian feta cheese. So who else could be responsible but my good friend Mitch Heat and his beautiful Bulgarian fiancée?

I immediately sent off my thanks and tucked the feta into the refrigerator to wait for the first of many luscious meals. (And no, I haven't even opened the chocolate yet... that will have to wait, too, until I've overcome the surfeit of holiday sweets.)

I had hopes of making pasta e ceci, a rich and creamy Italian pasta involving chickpeas and feta, over the weekend, but it just didn't happen with everything else I had going on. And by the time I got home today, I wasn't up for anything too complicated.

In fact, the warmer weather made me think about a lighter dinner dish. Having headed out to a meeting today, I had the misfortune to endure a decidedly unhealthy lunch that involved a grilled cheese sandwich with slices of mealy tomato worked into it. The tomato, like more store-bought specimens at this time of year, resembled the insulation from Barbie's Dream House (TM, I'm sure) more than it did a tomato, and it tasted even less appetizing.

When I got home after the meeting, my eye landed on the few remaining local tomatoes ripening on the windowsill, and I decided that even though it wouldn't be the same as a tomato fresh off the vine, I had to have one of those local tomatoes to wipe out the taste of the other. (Nosher, once again, you inspire me.)

Granted, this tomato still proved to be mealy, but it definitely had more flavor than what I found at lunchtime, and after sautéing it with local garlic, a sprinkling of crumbled dried local basil, and a dash of cinnamon (try it, it's surprisingly good), I poured my makeshift sauce over a small dish of cubed Bulgarian feta, allowing the warmth of the tomato sauce to melt the cheese ever so slightly.

It's not haute cuisine, and it's certainly not as good as it would be in August or September with truly fresh tomatoes and basil, but it more than made up for my lunch. The feta was creamy and salty, and the tomato sauce brought a tangy sweetness to it all.

You'll be seeing more of this feta soon, because now that I've dipped into it, I'll be craving it for a while. It's that good, and Mitch Heat knows how much I love good food.

I guess I'll just have to resign myself to my feta...


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