Friday, April 21, 2017

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip


Artichokes came late into my life. How late? Well, I was well into adulthood. I would like to be able to tell you exactly where I first had them, how they were served, or how much I swooned over them. But honestly I can't remember. I vaguely recall wondering how it was that artichokes had never crossed my life path before. Or how I had managed to go through so many years of my life without them. Yet, once the artichoke door was opened, there was no going back to an artichoke-free life. Without being overly melodramatic over a vegetable of all things, it was kind of like the feeling one gets when meeting a 'causing your heart to race and stomach to have butterflies' soul mate. You immediately know you want them to be in your life forever.


Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dips have been around for a very long time. And understandably so. They are delicious, irresistible, slightly addictive, and pair incredibly well with wine. White wine, red wine, a rose, a prosecco. A Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip befriends all of them. 


But let's be honest about something. Not all Hot Spinach and Artichokes Dips are the same. You have probably had your share of those ranging from not particularly endearing to your palate to ones you wanted to hover over. So what may account for the differences? With the exception of all them having spinach and artichokes as common ingredients, there are numerous 'other ingredient' options. All of which will have an impact on the taste and texture of the dip. Some are made with only one kind of cheese, while others have two or more kinds of cheeses. Some have a cream cheese/mayonnaise base, while others are made with sour cream, a bechamel (white sauce) or even a jar of canned sauce. The herbs used are fresh, dried, or a combination of both.  The garlic, if used, maybe be freshly grated or a powder. And sauteed onions are one of the many options added to them. Additionally the proportions of ingredients are all over the map. Which invariably leads to the variances in taste reactions. 


When looking at dozens of recipes for a Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip, I came to discover there wasn't 'one' that spoke to me. So I did what I often do. Make some inferences about ingredient proportions, put together combinations that appeal to me, and cross my fingers the outcome will be as good as or even better than I had hoped. This would be my version of culinary science.

While I may be a bit biased, I am going to boldly suggest you abandon your favorite Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip recipe and replace it with this one. Or at least make your version and this version, invite your friends over for a taste test and determine which one is 'best'. Of course, you should do this before they consume significant quantities of wine and after you give them your written statement verifying their 'best' choice decision will not in any way do any temporary or permanent harm to your friendship. 


If you are like me, you always have some frozen spinach in the freezer, cans of artichoke hearts, garlic, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano in the house. Whole milk mozzarella and Spanish Onions are things I buy when I need them.  When a recipe calls a non-specified type of oregano, I usually decide whether to use the Mediterranean (Greek, Italian) or Mexican versions. Because Mexican Oregano has some citrus notes to it, I thought it would pair well with the artichokes and spinach.


Some of the Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip recipes I looked at called for the use of frozen artichoke hearts. But I tend to buy canned artichoke hearts. Use what you like. 

I wanted this Hot Artichoke Dip to have a strong cheesy flavor. So I opted for freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Whole Milk (versus Part-Skim or Fresh) mozzarella. I know Parmigiano-Reggiano can be a little more expensive than other imported or domestic parmesan cheeses, but it lasts for quite a long time (wrapped well) in the refrigerator and brings an unparalleled dimension of flavor to any dish it is used in.


After all of the ingredients are combined, transfer to a oven-proof baking/serving dish and top with some additional grated cheese. I topped with both of the cheeses, but next time might only top with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. 


The Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip bakes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 30-35 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the dip is hot in the center. Your oven as well as the size/depth of the baking dish may affect your baking time.


You can serve the Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip with crackers, crostini, pita chips, or bagel chips. Note: I served with Garlic-Parmesan bagel chips. 


Invariably this dip will turn from hot to warm to even room temperature when you are serving it. Unless of course it is quickly inhaled because it is the only thing you are serving and everyone is starving. While some may like it 'best' hot or warm, I think was still delicious when it got to room temperature. In the event you have any leftovers, this dip reheats exceptionally well in the microwave a medium power. 

This Hot Spinach and Artichoke is destined to be one of your new best friend in the weeks, months and years ahead. It's creamy, cheesy, more than slightly addictive, and incredibly delicious. In other words, its everything a Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip should be.

Recipe
Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip  (inspired by multiple sources)

Ingredients
1 small yellow, Spanish onion, or other sweet onion chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove the liquid
14 ounce can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 to 3/4 cups mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano (or 1 teaspoon of Italian oregano)
1 - 2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
4 ounces fresh or whole milk mozzarella, grated

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F)
2. Melt butter in small sauté pan. Add chopped onion and cook until onion has become translucent (approximately 2-3 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
3. In a medium-large bowl, mix cream cheese, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano. Stir until mixture is smooth and free of any cream cheese lumps.
4. Add spinach, artichoke hearts, grated cheeses and onion. Stir until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
5. Transfer to a oven-proof container. Lightly grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top.
6. Bake 30-35 minutes or until top is lightly golden and dip is hot in the center.
7. Serve hot/warm with bagel chips, pita chips, crackers, and/or crostini.

Notes: (1) This dip can be made early in the day or even the day before. Do not preheat the oven if transferring the dish directly from the refrigerator to the oven. Your baking time might increase slightly, but you won't risk cracking your dish. (2) When buying mozzarella, look for whole milk mozzarella as it does not release as much liquid as a part-skim or fresh mozzarella. (3) If you double the recipe, make it two different dishes (versus one larger dish) and bake them separately. This way you will always have a hot/very warm dip to serve.


April Spring Day (2017) at Morton Arboretum (Lisle, Illinois)


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