The Unexpected Spice You Should Try In Your Baked Feta Pasta

When you've got Greek food on the brain, mouth-watering images of roasted lamb, kalamata olives, delicate spanakopita, tangy feta cheese, and cooling tzatziki sauce might have you running to the grocery store to stock up on all the classic ingredients used in traditional Greek cuisine. According to Greek City Times, that's exactly what happened in Finland when a recipe posted by food blogger Jenni Häyrinen (@liemessa) for baked feta pasta went viral and caused a feta cheese shortage. When the recipe hit TikTok, millions of viewers started making the deliciously easy dish and added in favorite flavors to taste.

The most basic version of baked feta pasta is delicious as is with its fresh and flavorful simplicity, but it never hurts to make a random recipe your own with additional flavors and textures. Delish suggests kicking this simple dish up a notch by adding shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes to the tomato-feta mix to create a more flavorful oil, and says that a little reserved pasta water added before serving smooths the sauce out and makes it go a little further. It's the dealer's choice when it comes to upgrading this popular pasta dish, but there's one key ingredient that can easily elevate your baked feta pasta ⁠— and you won't have to worry about grocery store outages as this secret spice is probably already in your pantry.

Traditional Greek add-ins

When Mediterranean food fanatics see that this viral pasta dish is centered around an entire block of feta cheese, they might want to Greek out and incorporate even more classic ingredients associated with Grecian cuisine. MasterClass says hallmark ingredients of traditional Greek fare include olive oil and olives, feta cheese, herbs, and fish and seafood. Lemon and Vine, meanwhile, notes that traditional Greek herbs and spices like oregano and basil are also foundational flavors of the cuisine, as they're grown and harvested in areas in and around Greece.

Unbeknownst to many Greek food fans, imported spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg ⁠— typically associated with dessert ⁠— are often used to season both sweet and savory foods. The Olive and the Sea says that cinnamon is often used with roasted meats, tomato sauces, and traditional dishes like moussaka and pastitsio (Greek lasagna with béchamel sauce). The earthy, sweet spice even appears in the famous Cincinnati chili that originated from two Greek immigrant brothers who served it in their Cincinnati restaurant.

A cinnamon surprise

You've allowed yourself to get swept up by the viral sensation that is baked feta pasta along with everyone else whose appetite is controlled by their Instagram feed, and you're adding traditional Greek flavors to make it your own. Folks are familiar with the spiced flavor of sweet Greek desserts, but MyRecipes encourages cooks to get their heads out of the baklava mindset and put some cinnamon in this pasta dish, too.

According to Foodal, the bold spice and heady aroma of cassia cinnamon are most suited to savory foods. It's the most common variety of the spice, but the depth of flavor that it brings to dishes is totally unique. The earthy notes of cinnamon bring a hint of pungent sweetness to the salty feta cheese and add an earthy element to the pop of fresh tomato flavor. A little goes a long way when adding cinnamon to this baked feta pasta, and just a ¼ to ½ teaspoon should do the trick. Diners won't be able to put their finger on the secret ingredient or their forks down.