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Feta is fabulous on almost everything

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Alicia writes: To my thinking, nothing makes a salad more special than a sprinkle of feta cheese. But my family rarely agrees to go along with me. Little do they know! Feta is fabulous in everything from soups and stews to pasta, pizza and sandwiches — and yes, good old salads.

The days of only being able to find plain feta cheese are long gone. Check out the dairy case in your grocery or deli to see what flavors of feta are starring this week. I've spotted feta flavored with oregano, sundried tomato and basil, and roasted garlic. There's even reduced-fat feta.

Most brands come either in a block or already crumbled, which tends to be more expensive. The price per ounce is usually listed on the dairy shelf, so look for the best deal. It is so easy to crumble the cheese, sometimes it's not worth the extra expense for the manufacturer to do it for you. Just crumble the whole block into an airtight container and pop it in the refrigerator. Then you're ready for a sprinkle here or there as needed.

The bright flavor of feta marries perfectly with the touch of oregano and tomatoes in today's recipe for Mediterranean Chicken. Stirred in at the end of the cooking, it melts only slightly and blends beautifully with the wine and tomato sauce. Not one person at my table really knew what was making the sauce so special. Shhh! Don't tell. Let them keep on thinking feta is only for salads.


Mediterranean Chicken with Feta Cheese

Baby spinach leaves with bottled dressing

Crusty bread


Start to finish: 20 minutes

Cook's note: Just about any flavor of feta works in this versatile pasta dish, but if you can't decide, you can't go wrong with plain.

8 ounces orzo pasta

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, fresh or frozen

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 large onion (for about 1 cup chopped)

2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with garlic and oregano

4 ounces feta cheese (see Cook's note)

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves, optional

Bring 2 1/2 quarts of unsalted water to a boil in a 4 1/2 quart or larger Dutch oven or soup pot. Add the orzo to the boiling water and cook for 8 minutes or until orzo is tender. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, if the chicken is frozen, place it on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave 3 minutes, uncovered, on high, to begin defrosting.

While the chicken defrosts, heat the oil over medium heat in an extra-deep 12-inch nonstick skillet. Peel the onion and coarsely chop it, adding it to the skillet as you chop. Cut the chicken (fresh or partially defrosted) into bite-size pieces, adding the pieces to the skillet as you cut. After about a 1/2 cup of chicken is in the pan, raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cut and add the rest of the chicken to the pan. Cook the chicken, stirring from time to time, until it is no longer pink outside, about 3 minutes. While the chicken cooks, add the garlic, oregano and basil. Stir frequently.

When the chicken is cooked through, stir in the wine and cook 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their juice and the feta cheese. Rinse and chop the parsley if using. Add it to the chicken mixture. Stir and cook 1 more minute and then serve over the hot, drained orzo. Makes 4 servings.

Approximate Values Per Serving: 519 calories (22 percent from fat), 13 g fat (5.6 g saturated), 91 mg cholesterol, 38 g protein, 57 g carbohydrates, 2.5 g dietary fiber, 893 mg sodium.

Beverly Mills is a former food editor of the Miami Herald food section and a mother of two; Alicia Ross, a former food columnist for The Raleigh News and Observer, also has two children. Send desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at www.desperationdinners.com. You can e-mail Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross at bev-alicia@desperationdinners.com. © United Feature Syndicate Inc.