Finland is known for some interesting dishes, like sautéed reindeer, fish pie and salty licorice.

Pasta hasn't been high on the list, though it is on their menus and served often enough. So, who would have thought that a pasta dish of tomatoes and feta cheese would throw this country into the culinary spotlight?

Blame it on — or thank — TikTok. What the Finnish call "uunifetapasta" (baked feta pasta) has become one of the most sought-after recipes on social media, even leading to a shortage of feta cheese in Finland at one point.

Finnish cook Tiiu Piret posted a version on her blog in early 2018. Jenni Hayrinen, a blogger in Helsinki, tweaked it and shared it in 2019. The recipe was then picked up in the U.S. by MacKenzie Smith, another blogger, who posted both a video and the recipe in 2020. The rest is history. The hashtag #bakedfetapasta has had more than 52 million views on TikTok, and is still going strong.

So, what's its appeal? Several things: First, it's incredibly easy to make. The most challenging thing might be buying the ingredients — cherry or grape tomatoes, a block of Greek feta cheese and fresh basil, assuming you have pasta and fresh garlic on hand. If not, pick those up, too.

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It's important to the success of the recipe to purchase Greek feta, made with 70% sheep's milk. Feta made with cow's milk is not as creamy, and may make the sauce too dry. It's also crumblier and has a slightly sour taste. If you can't find a block, you can use feta crumbles, just pile them in the middle of the tomatoes before putting the dish in the oven. Some have used goat cheese instead with good results.

As for what pasta, use the shorter varieties with ridges, like rotini or rigatoni. Shells work well, too. The sauce will stick to them better than spaghetti. Also, only use 8-10 ounces. More than that, and the sauce won't cover it adequately.

Mix cherry tomatoes with 1/2 cup olive oil, the slices of garlic, and a little salt and pepper in a bowl (or right in the baking dish). (Cooks warn not to skimp on the olive oil.) Some have added a sprinkle or two of red pepper flakes, then place the mixture into a flat casserole dish. Put the feta chunk in the middle on top of the tomatoes, then put the whole thing in a hot oven. This is where the magic happens.

The tomatoes, garlic and feta cheese bubble just out of the oven. (Meredith Williams / mwilliams@postbulletin.com)
The tomatoes, garlic and feta cheese bubble just out of the oven. (Meredith Williams / mwilliams@postbulletin.com)

When the tomatoes are soft and the feta is browned, bring the dish out, mix everything together, add the basil, and mix it with the pasta. (If the sauce is gritty and broken, you've used the wrong cheese. Try mixing in a little hot pasta water to help.)

Mixed together, the baked tomatoes, garlic and feta cheese make a sauce. (Meredith Williams / mwilliams@postbulletin.com)
Mixed together, the baked tomatoes, garlic and feta cheese make a sauce. (Meredith Williams / mwilliams@postbulletin.com)

As a pasta lover, I had to give this a try. I was a bit hesitant because I'm neither a goat cheese nor a feta lover, but I hoped that the tomatoes, along with the garlic, would temper the assertiveness of the feta. It did. The balance between the sweet cherry tomatoes and the salty, creamy feta took it over the top. While I will likely never have sautéed reindeer, I will definitely make this Finnish original again. Try it. You will, too.

Baked Feta Pasta

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes

4 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt

1 block (7 ounces) Greek feta cheese

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

8-10 ounces dried pasta

Fresh basil leaves for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, combine the tomatoes, garlic and half the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Place the feta in the center of the tomato mixture and top with the rest of the olive oil. Sprinkle the whole dish with red pepper flakes if using, and a little black pepper. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the tomatoes have burst their skins and the garlic is soft. The feta should also be browned.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta to al dente stage. Save 1 cup of the water and drain the pasta. Mash the feta and tomatoes with a fork until evenly combined. Mix with the pasta. Add a little of the pasta water if it seems too dry. Taste and adjust seasonings. Divide among pasta bowls and top with plenty of basil leaves.

The finished baked feta pasta, with the addition of fresh basil. (Meredith Williams / mwilliams@postbulletin.com)
The finished baked feta pasta, with the addition of fresh basil. (Meredith Williams / mwilliams@postbulletin.com)

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.