Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
I’m a proud member of Generation X. According to the latest vernacular, this makes me very likely to be “cheugy.” This nonsense word is meant as an insult and conveys disdain for all things conformist, basic, and middle-aged (side hair parts and low-rise jeans are particular targets). For the most part, I am guilty as charged – I guess.
The term originated on TikTok and lived a whole life cycle before I became aware of it, because I hate TikTok. Like, I really just can’t stand it. At the urging of my teenage children, I loaded the app onto my phone a few years ago (after they assured me I wouldn’t be opening myself up to identity theft at the hands of foreign agents) and proceeded to roll my eyes so hard so many times that I feared I might trigger a migraine or some other neurological event. I’m pretty sure I lost several IQ points watching a succession of ever-sillier three-minute videos in which people applied makeup, insulted their significant other, or shared a shocking “true” story. Even the cooking videos (which the algorithm quickly determined I was interested in) seemed like a waste of time, given that they tended to feature weird and messy uses for waffle irons and the senseless reconfiguring of grocery store birthday cakes.
Given my disdain for TikTok’s form and function, it makes sense that I’m late to the party for this feta pasta. In a rare moment of actual usefulness, the social media platform was the first home for this pasta recipe, which has since gone viral across the entire social media landscape. A food blogger in Finland named Jenni Häyrinen posted a mouthwatering video of the recipe in 2019. Not long after, supermarkets in Finland began to experience shortages of the feta cheese called for in the recipe. As social media posts are wont to do, this one went viral as it was shared across international borders, and then reposted by foodies worldwide, mostly on TikTok, but eventually on the cheugy platforms I tend to frequent. While it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever make Pop-Tarts slathered in cake batter and baked in a waffle iron (it’s a thing), after making this pasta just once I can honestly say I’ll make it on the regular forever after. Häyrinen dubbed the dish “Uunifetapasta,” but a quick Google search reveals that most outlets call it TikTok pasta. I just call it delicious.
It’s easy enough to access the original version of the recipe on Häyrinen’s TikTok page, where her handle is “liemessa.” She includes a bit of chopped red chili pepper in her version, which is absent in most of the many iterations and reposts of the recipe available virtually everywhere, but if you like a bit of heat, it would be worth a try. I tried the more generic version (again, embracing my cheugy here) which omits the chili pepper.
The recipe is so simple it seemed like it couldn’t be any good. An olive-oil-drizzled block of feta is baked with cherry tomatoes and garlic until the tomatoes start to disintegrate and the cheese is melted. Add some fresh basil and cooked pasta, and voila, dinner is done. One evening when I discovered I had a surplus of tomatoes on the verge of going bad, I figured my losses would be minimal if the dish didn’t work, so I gave it a shot. I served the pasta with some grilled chicken and veggies and waited for my diners to comment. As it turns out, the reviews were mostly silence since my family seemed intent only on what they were eating. Finally, someone said, “Hey, do we have more of this?” The fact that there was enough for everyone to have seconds was met with strong approval from everyone at the dinner table, which might just be a first at my house.
The dish comes together in seconds, which is why TikTok is the perfect showcase for this meal, and also why I will be making this often. Unlike other cheese-pasta dishes, there’s no need to add cream or make a white sauce to achieve a smooth, saucy texture. Some versions of this recipe call for the final minutes of oven time to be spent under the broiler, and I love the way that final blast of high heat blisters the tomatoes and barely chars the top of the cheese, but if you opt to skip the final step your pasta will still be delicious if you simply ensure the cheese is melted enough to fully incorporate with the tomatoes. You can use virtually any kind of pasta here, but I like farfalle (bow-tie pasta) because it’s cute and it really soaks up the flavor of the sauce. Still, if you have elbows or linguini on hand, use them. Honestly, Styrofoam cups would taste pretty good paired with this sauce, so don’t worry too much about which kind of noodles you use.
This pasta confirms that I am simultaneously old (I found this recipe as a repost on Facebook) but willing to try new things (like a recipe that originated in the same place that millions of people watched a gummy bear dance to an Adele song).
Rest assured, I will cook this new favorite in much the same manner I cook most of my dinner table regulars – listening to 80s hits by R.E.M. or The Bangles, shamelessly singing at the top of my lungs and possibly consulting a printed copy of the recipe while wearing reading glasses. It’s so cheugy, it’s practically cool.