The recipes I get most excited about are those with a high impressiveness-to-effort ratio — that is, they elicit big oohs and aahs from guests but require hardly any work. This dish ranks well toward the top on that list.
To make it, all you need to do is slice a block of feta cheese into half-inch-thick planks and chop a couple of teaspoons of fresh herbs. I call for parsley and dill here, but you could add or substitute chives, basil or cilantro if you like.
The slab of feta, freckled with crushed red pepper flakes and ground black pepper, emerges from the oven warm and soft — almost custardlike — ready to be sprinkled with the fresh herbs. Served right in its baking vessel, it couldn't be easier or more attractive.
It's a relatively healthful option, too. That's because feta cheese naturally has fewer calories and less saturated fat than brie, the other cheese we tend to serve melted right out of the oven, and because it is accompanied here by an array of crisp, seasonal vegetables (and some pita chips), which keep the overall dish fresh, colorful and light.
BAKED FETA WITH HERBS
One 4-ounce slab of feta cheese, about 1/2-inch thick
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Generous pinch freshly ground black pepper
Generous pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill
Any combination of vegetables such as endive leaves, radish wedges and sliced cucumber, for serving
Pita chips, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pat the feta dry with paper towel, then brush both sides of the cheese slab with oil.
Place the cheese slab in an ovenproof dish such as a ceramic baking dish or small cast-iron skillet. Sprinkle it with the black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Bake (middle rack) for about 12 minutes, until the cheese is warmed through and has softened but still retains its shape.
Scatter the herbs over the top, and serve with the vegetables and pita chips.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: You can make it ahead of time and reheat the cheese in a 400-degree oven until just warmed through.