Washington - Anthony Chittum didn't waste any time. As soon as he and his wife, Dominique, tasted a sesame-fried feta dish at some “random taverna” while visiting her family in Greece four years ago, he knew what he had to do.
“I cooked it for the family, there in Santorini, played around with it, then came back, worked on it some more and put it on the menu” at Vermilion in Alexandria, Virginia, he says.
Now, as executive chef at Iron Gate in DC, he serves it as a hearty appetiser paired with seasonal root vegetables.
The dish hits all the right notes: salt and tang from the feta, sweetness from the honey, earthiness from the vegetables and a touch of smoke from the fried sesame seeds. Don't forget the crowning touch, balsamic vinegar. Splurge on a good aged one, which should be almost syrupy, and after you drizzle it on, open a window and pray for a Santorini-like breeze to blow through your kitchen.
Sesame-Crusted Feta With Honey-Roasted Carrots
1. Trim and scrub 1 pound (about 500g) baby carrots (preferably thin). Cut in half any that are larger than 1cm thick. On a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold all the carrots in a single layer, toss them with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon honey and a light sprinkling of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Roast in a 450-degree oven until tender and caramelized, 10 to 20 minutes. Cover loosely with foil to keep warm.
2. Pour 3 cups olive oil into a saucepan; heat the oil to 180degC (use an instant-read thermometer). Place a cooling rack over a baking sheet or paper towels.
3. Spread 1/3 cup flour in a shallow bowl. Lightly beat 1 large egg in a second shallow bowl. In a third, whisk together 3/4 cup plain bread crumbs, 1/4 cup white sesame seeds and 1/4 cup black sesame seeds. Cut a 1-pound (about 500g) block of feta cheese (preferably Greek) into 1cm slices and coat each piece of feta in the flour, then the egg, then the bread mixture.
4. Carefully place the coated feta slices in the hot oil, working in batches to avoid crowding. Fry until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Use a spatula or slotted spoon to transfer each piece to the cooling rack to drain.
5. Divide the carrots among serving plates. Top with the fried feta and drizzle with another 1/4 cup honey and 2 tablespoons highest-quality aged balsamic vinegar. Serve warm.