Wine & Food Killers: Baked Feta with Za’atar Pita Crisps and Harvest Pinot Gris 2019

The thing is, it still isn’t spring. Not for a couple more weeks, and presumably those will be grey and rain-saturated like all the rest of this mild and humid and uncomfortably sodden winter. The daffodils keep blooming only to be knocked down again by Atlantic storms. Sunshine feels like a postcard sent long ago, across continents.

I forget, until March, about this annual pre-spring malaise. Once longer nights and warmer temperatures return, it will disappear again. But until then, I’ve had to trick myself into believing in brightness.

A first weapon in this fight: Harvest’s 2019 Pinot Gris, which is made by cult winemakers Brendan and Laura Carter in Australia’s Adelaide Hills. It comes in a vibrant bottle, and even its cork bears a message of growing things: “The wind is in the barley-grass / The wattles are in bloom / The breezes greet us as they pass / With honey-sweet perfume.”

Inside the bottle is a limpid, glassy, rose-gold wine that tastes slightly saline, fruitful and zippy with acidity. Many think of Pinot Gris, or Pinot Grigio, as a white grape, but its dusty-rose hue means it can produce skin-contact wines of extraordinary beauty. If you’re a beer drinker, it is reminiscent of a red-fruit gose, tart and electric. It might be what a bottled, blossoming cherry tree would taste like.

A second weapon: baked feta and za’atar pita crisps. Here is the kind of Mediterranean meal that requires little active cooking and feels suited to the hottest day of the year; in late winter, it becomes a harbinger of warmer things (while still being, you know, just elevated chips and dip). Both the crisps and the baked feta are devilishly easy and fast, and serve as an impressive snack or appetiser, whatever the occasion.

With its ample acidity, the wine slices through the dish’s melt and salt with ease. With their herbal flavour profiles, both the feta and crisps complement the wine’s fruity freshness. Together, they are like a temporary patch of sun pooling irresistibly on the table.

Baked Feta and Za’atar Pita Crisps
Adapted from the New York Times
Serves 2 as an appetiser or 4 as a light snack

For the za’atar pita crisps:
2 large pitas
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons za’atar
Fine sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

For the baked feta:
1 200g block feta
4 tablespoons olive oil
7-8 fresh thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon dried lavender (optional)
2 tablespoons honey
Black pepper, to taste

1. First, make the za’atar pita crisps. Preheat the oven to 200° Celsius (400° Fahrenheit) and line two large baking sheets with foil. Using kitchen shears, cut along the edge of each pita until separated into two thin layers. Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle za’atar evenly over the tops of each pita layer. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Bake the pita for 6–10 minutes (depending on how thin your pieces are) or until golden-brown and crisp (you may need to rotate trays partway through cooking if your oven has hot spots). Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle, break into rough pieces.

3. Keep the oven temperature set to 200° Celsius (400° Fahrenheit). Prepare your feta: drain and pat dry. Place in a small, oven-safe earthenware or Pyrex dish, and pour over the olive oil. Add the thyme and lavender (if using) to the olive oil. Transfer to the oven and bake for approximately 8 minutes, or until softened but not melted.

4. As the feta bakes, add the honey to a small bowl and microwave until warm and easily pourable. When the feta is done, remove from the oven and pour the honey over the cheese.

5. Heat your grill to high. Grill the feta for approximately 5 minutes, or until perfectly golden-brown on top. Serve (being careful of the hot dish), alongside a bowl of the pita crisps.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription boxes.