When you think of Greek cheese, you probably think of salads topped with feta. Or — if you’re old enough to have frequented restaurants before the days of increased fire code safety — you think of cheese with flames shooting up from it and a waiter yelling “Opa!” (That dish, saganaki, is typically made with kasseri cheese and lemon juice. Fried halloumi cheese is delicious, too.)
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I used to adore another simple dish based on Greek cheese: the Old Spaghetti Factory’s pasta tossed with myzithra cheese. When I lived in San Diego, the Old Spaghetti Factory down in the Gaslamp Quarter was my favorite restaurant (where else can you dine inside an old trolley car?), and that dish was my favorite thing on the menu. Makes a lot of sense now that I know myzithra cheese is a member of the made-in-Greece-with-sheep’s-milk family. My favorite cheeses are those made from sheep’s milk, and the Greeks — along with Spanish and Basque cheesemakers — are the masters of sheep milk.
Much to my delight, myzithra cheese is becoming more readily available Stateside. The dry, aged version, that is. I’ve never managed to find the fresh, soft version, although I hear it’s much like ricotta in terms of texture and possible uses. The dry, aged version is decidedly salty and savory and is perfect for grating. It doesn’t melt well, though, so don’t try to make macaroni and cheese with it. And you certainly don’t need to add salt to your recipe if you’re using aged myzithra. In this dish, the cheese’s inherent saltiness pairs nicely with the sweet juiciness of the tomatoes.
Pasta Tossed with Tomatoes & Myzithra
Serves 2, but can be easily doubled or tripled as you see fit.
2 servings whole-grain pasta of your choice (brown rice pasta is a tasty option and is gluten-free)
Chopped tomatoes (I like cherry tomatoes the best since they seem to be the juiciest, but use whatever you like best; I also like a lot of tomatoes, but again that’s your call)
Mzyithra cheese (a little goes a long way)
1 tsp. dried mint
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Prepare the pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, halve the tomatoes if they’re small or chop them if they’re larger than bite-sized. Grate about 1/3 cup of cheese and be ready to grate more to taste.
Toss the cooked pasta with the remaining ingredients and taste to see if you’d like to add more cheese. This would be lovely topped with chicken sautéed in balsamic vinegar — again, the sweetness of the balsamic would contrast nicely with the salty, savory cheese.
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