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Wondering what that viral TikTok pasta recipe is all about, but don’t know where to start? I’m going to show you how to make the absolute best, easiest version!
Finding an actual recipe
I pretty much live on pasta these days. When I saw a baked feta pasta recipe taking over TikTok, I immediately wanted to make it, but since TikTok is not a great place to actually follow recipes (the videos are limited to one minute), and there were so many different versions, I started googling.
I soon discovered the original version of the TikTok recipe, on a Finnish food blog called Liemessä. (I don’t know a word of Finnish, but Google Translate does a good job.) Called Uunifetapasta, this recipe was published in 2019.
The author added a more recent post (in English) after the recipe went viral in Finland (she claims feta sales went up 300% because of her recipe!) and spread around the world, and with that post I had all the info I needed to try the original recipe that fueled the whole TikTok trend.
Simple ingredients, easy instructions
The recipe was super simple, with only a handful of ingredients that needed almost no prep: pasta, feta, olive oil, chili pepper, cherry tomatoes, garlic (optional), salt, pepper, and fresh basil. Everything but the pasta and basil bakes in a 13x9x2 dish while you cook the pasta.
I’m kind of obsessed with making recipes exactly as written the first time. If something goes wrong, and I’ve changed a bunch of things, I have no idea if I changed something important, or if it was just a bad recipe to begin with. So the first time I made baked feta pasta, I stayed as close to the ingredients and instructions as possible.
The only change I made was for the chili pepper. The original recipe called for half of a red chili pepper, and I didn’t have one, and didn’t feel like going out in search of one. But knowing that giving the recipe that bit of heat was probably important, I didn’t want to leave it out completely, so I substituted crushed red pepper flakes.
The pasta was really, really tasty. It’s not the most amazing pasta I’ve ever tasted, like so many have claimed. That’s not why it went viral. It went viral because it’s so easy. Pasta recipes that I would consider to be better also involve a ton more work, prepping and stirring and layering and so, so much time.
This recipe, on the other hand, is 30 minutes from grabbing the ingredients to sitting down to eat. It’s a weeknight meal that feels like you put in weekend effort.
Adapting the ingredients
I ended up making the recipe more than a dozen times (note that some of the images are of half recipes). Most of the that was to adapt it for Weight Watchers, but the first few were to adapt the ingredients to what Americans were more likely to find in the store. Not different ingredients as much as different standard amounts.
(If you’re interested in the Weight Watchers version, you can get that recipe here.)
The original recipe called for a 200-gram block of feta, which is 7 ounces, and it makes sense that a block of feta would be 200 grams in Finland. But here, you’re probably just as likely to find 8-ounce blocks, or about 224 grams.
I usually buy Athenos Feta, with is sold in 8-ounce blocks, so after the first time, I started making it with 8 ounces of feta. It doesn’t make a huge difference in taste, but more cheese is always better, and this way you can just use an entire standard American block. (More on American vs. Greek feta later in this post.)
I made the same kind of adjustment for the cherry tomatoes. The 500 grams from the original recipe are almost 18 ounces. And while I did find some 18-ounce containers of cherry containers being listed online at a few stores, cherry tomatoes are more commonly sold by the pint, which is 16 ounces. Again, like the feta, this small change didn’t make a difference in the recipe, and it’s just easier to put in a pint of tomatoes rather than measuring out 500 grams.
The original author of the recipe admitted that she left the stems on her cherry tomatoes while they baked to make them more Instagram-worthy. Don’t do this!! It would be such a pain to remove a couple dozen scalding-hot tomatoes from the stem. If your tomatoes come on a stem, remove the stem before cooking.
Crushed red pepper flakes
I also played around with the amount of crushed red pepper flakes. I don’t like spicy foods, and I found 1/2 teaspoon to be perfect. I would encourage you not to skip this ingredient, without this bit of heat the recipe would be very bland.
Usually if a recipe called for as much as 1/2 cup of olive oil, I would reach for my big bottle of less expensive extra-virgin. And that’s what I did the first time I made this. But the second time, I used the more expensive bottle that I usually use for dressings, or dipping bread, and I never went back. The flavor of the oil really comes through.
This is an expensive choice, though. If you use a less expensive olive oil, the dish will still taste very, very good, I don’t mean to imply that you need to break the bank with expensive olive oil. Just try not to use anything super cheap.
I honestly can’t remember if I used the garlic the first time or not, but I did use it a couple of times before deciding that this recipe just didn’t need it. This was a surprise, because garlic and pasta go together like…garlic and pasta. But it didn’t really add anything to this dish, so I didn’t include it in the final recipe.
Because I’m on Weight Watchers, I’ve been making this recipe with different kinds of whole wheat pasta, and I can tell you that every shape has worked. Regular pasta would work the same.
Spaghetti is probably my favorite, since the tomatoes and feta cling to it so well (with some spaghetti recipes you twirl the spaghetti around your fork and the other ingredients stay in your bowl!). Just be careful when you’re tossing everything together that you do it gently, at least if you care about not breaking the spaghetti strands into shorter pieces.
Maybe not penne
The only pasta shape I probably wouldn’t use again with this is penne (unless that’s all I had on hand). It was fine, but it’s not ideal for this. You get a lot of volume with penne, which makes it harder to mix together in the baking pan, and since this isn’t a very saucy recipe, you’re not really taking advantage of the hollow tubes of pasta.
Don’t overcook your pasta!
Whatever pasta you use, just make sure you don’t overcook it! Stop at al dente, or just a touch short of where you would want to eat it. Residual heat will keep it cooking for a few minutes while you drain it and mix it into the hot tomatoes and cheese.
The recipe as I’ve written it is how you should ideally make it to ensure success, but I understand that substitutions sometimes have to be made.
You can use any color of cherry or grape tomatoes. I’ve been finding golden cherry tomatoes on sale for the past two weeks, and they’ve worked great.
I have not, however, tried it with any kind of cut-up tomatoes. I feel like that might turn it into a different recipe. Part of the flavor of this dish comes from blistering the outsides of the tomatoes.
Canned Cherry Tomatoes
In a pinch, especially if you’re looking to save a little money on this recipe, you can use canned cherry tomatoes. I tried making it with a 14-ounce can of cherry tomatoes, and it worked really well!
Don’t get me wrong, I could definitely the change—when you use fresh tomatoes, the flavor makes a difference. But canned cherry tomatoes still tasted great! Add the entire contents of the can, with all of the liquid.
I kept meaning to try the recipe with dried basil instead of fresh, but still haven’t been able to make myself do it. Fresh basil added at the end is integral to this recipe, and while fresh basil can be expensive (especially in colder weather), it’s one of the easiest herbs to grow. You can grow it from seed, or propagate an almost unlimited amount of basil from one plant!
I’ve given the amount of basil as half an ounce before removing the stems, but you really don’t have to weigh it. A large handful of leaves will suffice.
Don’t tear the basil ahead of time, it will blacken.
I’ve had several questions about using some kind of cheese other than feta, and I have to say, I’m at a loss here. Without feta, this is a completely different recipe. Feta is what gives it its tang, its main flavor.
But which kind of feta?
You can adjust the flavor based on what kind of feta you use. What I usually buy is Athenos Feta, which is not technically feta. “Real” feta is made of sheep’s milk, sometimes with goat’s milk mixed in. And it has to be made in Greece.
Most American feta is made from cow’s milk, and that’s the taste I prefer. Sheep’s milk feta tastes a bit too gamey to me. But if you want a stronger feta flavor, look for a sheep’s milk feta. And feta in brine will be tangier than feta without brine.
I plan on trying this at some point with French feta, which is both milder and creamier than other fetas.
Leave the feta block whole
For one half-recipe attempt, I decided to cut the block of feta in half. I though maybe it would be even more melty if the heat could get to it more easily. But all that did was give it more surface area, which meant more browning, which meant less melting.
Keep the feta in a block, or if for some reason it’s already cut, stack it into a block. The goal is a thick rectangle.
If all you can find is crumbled feta, it will work with this recipe, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. For one thing, much like shredded cheese, crumbled feta usually has cellulose in the ingredients list, which keeps the crumbles from clumping together.
Because of the cellulose, crumbles don’t melt as well as a whole block. When I used crumbled feta it worked OK, and if I hadn’t been tasting it right next to the block version, I might not have noticed a difference. But since the crumbles didn’t melt as much as the block, the feta flavor wasn’t as infused into the dish—you would really only get the feta flavor from biting into a piece of feta.
If you’re using crumbles, first, look for the brand with the biggest pieces when you’re buying it (I was using Athenos Feta Crumbles, which come in good-sized pieces).
Second, pile the crumbles in the center of the baking dish, don’t spread them out. And don’t stir them at all during the baking process.
- Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the center position and a rack in the top position
- Pour most of the olive oil into a 13x9x2 glass baking pan
- Add the tomatoes and stir to coat them in olive oil
- Make a space in the center of the pan and add the feta cheese, drizzling the rest of the olive oil on top
- Sprinkle the feta with the crushed red pepper flakes
- Season the tomatoes with a large pinch of kosher salt and some ground black pepper
- Bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes, then move the pan to the top rack, increase the heat to 440°F, and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the tops of the tomatoes and feta are dark brown (it will probably take most of the 10 minutes for the oven to get up to temperature, but that's OK)
- Meanwhile, after you put the pan into the oven, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil
- Cook the pasta until al dente (just short of being done), drain, return to the pot, and cover to keep warm (if the tomatoes and feta still has a ways to go, you can toss in a little olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking)
- While everything else is cooking, remove the basil leaves from the stems, handling them gently
- Once the tomatoes and feta are out of the oven, give them a good stir, gently pressing on the tomatoes to break them up (look out for squirting juice!) and incorporating the melted feta into the tomatoes to make a creamy sauce
- Using tongs or a big spoon (depending on the type of pasta), transfer the pasta into the baking dish with the tomato/feta mixture, and toss/stir until the pasta is fully coated; tear the basil over the dish and stir again, gently
- Serve immediately
You can substitute a can of cherry tomatoes for the fresh cherry or grape tomatoes.
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Amount Per Serving Calories 886Total Fat 41gSaturated Fat 13gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 27gCholesterol 50mgSodium 673mgCarbohydrates 106gFiber 6gSugar 20gProtein 24g
Nutritional information is an estimate only.