Tomato and Feta Bake with Puff Pastry Twists

No matter what the question is, the answer is usually “pastry”. Pastry is warm, flaky and makes people feel good. As an appetiser, pastry twists are also very light, so they look impressive but don’t make your guests too full for whatever delicious main course you’ve prepared. Or they distract attention from the fact that you are still frantically preparing the main course, depending what type of cook/host you are. I’m usually still racing around trying to put the finishing touches on things, but I am making a concerted effort these days to aim for less labour-intensive menus; it makes for more time to chat with your friends, and less stress in general. This tomato and feta bake can be prepared up to a point beforehand, and then popped in the oven with the pastry twists, so you will be free for other things. The sweet, tangy tomato, salty feta and light, crunchy pastry are a magnificent combination, and can be served before almost anything. Also have a look at the suggestions for sweet pastry twists at the end of the recipe.

Tomato and Feta Bake

*adapted from the Woolworths Taste Magazine
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tblsp olive oil
Half an onion, chopped
1 fresh chilli, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed
2 tblsp brown sugar
Plain Danish-style feta


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Heat the oil in a small saucepan and fry the chopped onion, garlic and chilli for 5min on a low heat, until the onions are soft. Stir frequently to prevent the garlic and chilli from burning, and watch out for the fumes that chillies give off when cooking! They are fierce. Add the chopped tomatoes and brown sugar and simmer on a medium heat for about 20min, until the tomato mixture is looking all silky and thick and there is no obvious watery liquid.

Transfer the tomato mixture to two ramekins and wedge chunks of feta into them. Put them in the oven and bake for 20-25min until bubbling and the feta is slightly browned. If it won’t brown, stick them under the grill for a few seconds. Or just don’t worry about it – it will still taste great. Scatter with some torn fresh basil leaves, and serve hot with some type of dipper: chips/nachos, savoury biscuits, sliced ciabatta – anything! Personally, I highly recommend the puff pastry twists – they are delicious, really easy to make, and they look divine. Great for a dinner party.

Puff Pastry Twists

1 ready-made roll of frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
Coarse salt
Strong cheese, like parmesan or gruyere

Defrost the pastry at room temperature for an hour or two, or leave it overnight in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Unroll it carefully onto a clean kitchen counter. Give the pastry sheet a few rolls in all directions with a rolling pin (or full bottle of wine, if you, like me, don’t own a rolling pin). It’s fine that the sheet gets thinner and bigger – that’s what you want. After you’ve given it a few rolls, arrange it with the long side facing you (does that make sense? Can pastry “face” you?) and cut it in half along its length. Use a sharp knife with a smooth blade – smooth knives are for cutting raw pastry, and serrated knives are for cutting cooked pastry.

So you now have two long rectangular pastry strips. Brush both strips with the beaten egg, right to the edges, and sprinkle your choice of grated cheese onto one of the halves. Parmesan grated from a wedge, or gruyere, work nicely. But not that ready-grated “parmesan” – it’s not strong enough to get any real flavour. And sprinkle a little ground salt over the same half. Now flip the empty half on top of the cheese half and press down well. Like a raw pastry sandwich. You can even give the pastry another roll over in each direction with your rolling pin/wine bottle, to really seal it together. Now cut the pastry strip into 14 to 28 short strips. 14 strips will give you quite fat, puffy twists, while 28 will give much, much thinner strips. The photo in this post is of pastry cut into 14 strips – that should give you an idea about size/thickness. I would cut the full pastry rectangle in half, then cut each half in half, and so on, until you have a thickness you like.

Then pick up each strip at both ends, check the sides are sealed and twist once in the opposite direction. Lay the twists onto a baking sheet lined with foil, sprinkle with some coarse salt and bake for about 8-12min, depending how thick the twists are, until they are puffed, golden and crisp. Let them cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack. They’ll crisp up more when they cool. They can also be served warm, but straight out of the oven they are hot! So it’s best to factor in enough time to let them cool a bit. If you make them a couple hours in advance, you can store them in an airtight container until you are ready to serve them. These pastry twists are very versatile, and can be used with many other types of fillings – both savoury and sweet.

Here are some other suggestions:

Chilli flakes and cheddar cheese
Finely crumbled blue cheese
Minced sundried tomato and chopped basil
Sprinkle sweet pastry twists with sugar every time the savoury recipe above says salt. Add any of the following fillings:
Cinnamon and sugar
Nutella and finely chopped peanuts or almonds
Peanut butter and grated dark chocolate

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