I’VE REACHED the point in the late winter/early spring when I have had enough of long-cooked food, deep rich sauces and just about everything braised. I long for fresh flavors, quick-cooked foods and brightness. In my house, that usually means time for tomatoes and feta, my favorite out-of-season fast track to light but full flavor.
Yes, I have to make concessions. The tomatoes I can get at this time of year aren’t perfect. That’s where my cooking method and the feta come in. the feta topping off a quickly made fresh tomato sauce. I peel, seed and dice the best tomatoes I can find, usually plum tomatoes or hot-house varieties. In a shallow sauté pan, chopped onions or garlic cook over low heat until softened. In go the diced tomatoes, salt and freshly ground pepper and enough white wine to barely cover the tomatoes. Over medium-high heat, let the mixture cook for 5 or 6 minutes. At this point I can add chopped fresh herbs, lemon zest or capers. Now I can make a bunch of different things:
- Main-course chicken: Brown seasoned chicken breast halves on both sides. Transfer to an aluminum foil-lined pan. Top generously with the tomato mixture and crumbled feta. Bake in a 375-degree oven until the chicken reaches a temperature of 165 degrees when tested with an instant-read thermometer in the thickest section. If desired, tun under a broiler to lightly brown the feta. Serve along with any pan juices that have accumulated.
- Main-course fish: Lightly brown seasoned filets of any mild white fish. Transfer to aluminum foil-lined pan. Top generously with the tomato mixture and crumbled feta. Bake in a 375-degree oven until the fish is just cooked. If desired, run under a broiler to lightly brown the feta. Serve along with any pan juices that have accumulated.
- Main–course shrimp with pasta: Cover the bottom of a shallow baking dish with raw, peeled and deveined shrimp. Top with the tomato mixture and then generously cover with crumbled feta. Bake for 15 minutes, then put under the broiler to brown the feta. Serve spooned over rice or pasta.
- Zucchini side dish: Cut zucchini in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeded portion of each half. Lightly oil and season the zucchini halves and place, cut side down, on a lightly greased aluminum-foil-lined baking sheet. Roast the zucchini at 400 degrees until just tender. Turn the zucchini halves over and fill with the tomato mixture, topping with feta. Return to the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. If desired, tun under a broiler to lightly brown the feta. Serve along with any pan juices that have accumulated.
- Orzo side dish: Mix the tomato mixture and crumbled feta with cooked orzo for an easy side dish or entrée.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird “Stephanie Cooks,” a Culinary Institute of America graduate, former Washington Post columnist and onetime Club Med baby chef, plants dinner ideas in our brains every Monday.