What is this magical substance, you wonder? Mmmmm..... it's Baked Feta Cream Marinara!
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend at one of my favorite restaurants, the St. Clair Winery and Bistro. There are only three locations, and they're all in New Mexico. If I have an opportunity to visit, then I do... you've got to take these opportunities when you can (if you're ever near one, stop in, you won't regret it!).
St. Clair's has an amazing appetizer menu. And lunch menu. And dinner menu. Oh, and don't forget dessert! And the wine.... good gracious. I always stuff myself to the point of embarrassment, because I never know when I may be able to go back.
I finally said to myself, enough is enough! I can't always hop in the car and drive to New Mexico (especially if we're in Germany or something). I need to craft my own recipes to mimic theirs. This way, I can have Feta Cream Marinara whenever I darn well want to.
So that's exactly what I did.
And now I'm going to share it with you, 'cause I loves you. All the world deserves yummy Feta Cream Marinara whenever they want it.
Since my buddy Abby shared in the original gorge-fest, I felt it only fair to invite her for the creation of the recipe. I love it when Abby comes over, not just because we have a great time (though that's the biggest reason), but also because she brings me fabulous, yummy things... like homemade pizza crust, and Focaccia bread, also homemade.
Don't you wish Abby was your friend too??!
On this particular day, she brought me both! I stored the pizza crust for later use, but the Focaccia bread was the perfect accompaniment for our dip.
|The giver of pizza crust and bread dough, Abby|
Abby's job was to prepare the bread, because this is one thing I am really not good at. I buy all my fancy bread at Tar-jey. Perhaps someday I'll brave this unknown skill, but today is not that day.
You can use any kind of bread you want... toasted French or Italian would work well, even breadsticks. I had a baguette on hand, but set it aside when I saw the Focaccia. If you don't have an Abby to bring you fresh bread, then I suggest the baguette. Slice it thin, and toast on one side. The slices make a great scoop for the warm dip.
As you can tell from the ingredient picture, I snapped this before Abby and the bread arrived. That's why you still see my sad, store-bought bread. Don't worry though, I found another use for my Tar-jey baked goods.
This recipe turned out to be super, easy simple. You'll need a jar of good quality marinara, or use your own. I was in too big a hurry for the homemade part. You also need 6 ounces of crumbled feta cheese. Get the good stuff! We've had this conversation before. The picture shows a whole block of cream cheese, but you only need 2 or 3 ounces.
The oregano is optional: I used it to jazz up my jar of marinara. You don't have to do that if you don't want to. But if you do, just pluck the leaves, chop them up finely, and stir them into your sauce. Easy peasy.
Now the basil... this is necessary, people. Do not skimp on the basil! I don't know why, but the dip is not the same without fresh basil. If you don't have any, then go get some. Don't use the dry stuff, it's no good here. Buy the fresh stuff, open the package, and take a nice, long whiff. Thank me silently, then chiffonade the basil leaves.
When you're done, it should look a little something like this:
Set the basil aside for later. Then preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Now, we're going to mix up the heart of this dish. Add your feta cheese (6 oz) and cream cheese (2-3 oz) to a mixing bowl.
WARNING: Don't try this in a blender. Use a hand or countertop mixer. I have already made this error for you, and wasted valuable eating time with the cleanup. Learn from my mistakes.
Blend the cream cheese and feta cheese together. It's ok if the mix is not perfectly smooth. Little nuggets of feta are a nice surprise. If you like things creamier, go with the 3 ounces of cream cheese. I used two, but I think a little more would have been nice.
|Photo by: Abagail Austin|
Next, pour your marinara (about 18 oz) into an oven safe dish. You can use what you like, but a longer, shallower dish would not be so good. Think of something about the size of a cereal bowl. I used this Canopy square dish:
Time for the feta... I used an ice cream scoop in the hopes of having a perfectly shaped ball of the feta mix on top of my marinara. However, it looks a lot like vanilla ice cream!
Don't judge me. Please.
If you don't have a scoop, or you don't want your feta cream to look like actual ice cream, you can always shape the mixture a bit by hand before placing it in the center if the marinara.
Place the dish into your 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the dip for the last 5 minutes or so... it should melt and be creamy, but if any browning occurs, it's time to take it out of the oven.
To serve, top with fresh basil. Provide bread (your choice) for dipping.
NOM. Enough said.
Happy cooking, my friends!
The Standard Form:
Baked Feta Cream Marinara
18-24 ounces marinara sauce
6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
2-3 ounces cream cheese
Fresh basil, about 12 leaves, chiffonaded
Thinly sliced baguette, lightly toasted, for serving
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a hand mixer, combine the feta cheese and the cream cheese until mostly smooth.
Pour the marinara into an oven safe bowl, cereal size. Scoop the feta mixture into a ball on top of the marinara.
Bake 10-15 minutes, until slightly melted and creamy. Top with basil, serve with baguette.