Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Easy spinach and artichoke dip

By Paul Briand

Many years ago, newly single from divorce, a family event required me to bring something either as an appetizer, side dish or dessert. I could have taken a pass, but I was intent on holding my own in the contribution department. So I chose an appetizer, having no idea however what I would make.

What I hit upon after some research, primarily through the Epicurean.com web site, was a recipe for a dip that involved spinach, artichoke, various cheeses and garlic.

While my epicurean curiosity was pretty high at that time, it wasn't high enough nor was it well funded enough to seek out and buy all the different types of cheeses that the recipe called for. So I substituted the various fresh cheeses for the bagged shredded cheese. And rather than the water crackers (that I always thought were pretty bland) I opted for Triscuits.

I came away having learned two things: That I could hold my own in terms of contributing to the family table and that fresh garlic in the kitchen is a wonderful thing. I ended up peeling and pressing into the mixture more garlic than was necessary, but I discovered by happenstance that a lot of garlic -- and I mean a lot of garlic -- works well in this particular combination, especially against the saltiness of the Triscuit crackers.

1 can of artichokes in water (do not use artichokes in oil)
1 package frozen shredded spinach
Head of fresh garlic
1 package shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 package shredded Italian blend cheese
8 ounces mayonnaise

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Drain artichoke hearts and dice into small pieces
3. Thaw the spinach in microwave
4. Combine diced artichoke and thawed spinach in mixing bowl
5. Remove husks from garlic cloves and use a garlic press to add garlic to artichoke/spinach mixture (use as much garlic as you dare ... the more the merrier, I say)
6. Stir mayonnaise into mixture
7. Fold package of Italian blend cheese into mixture
8. Fold Monterey Jack cheese into mixture, holding back about a cup
9. Hand mix thoroughly and transfer mixture into a 2-qt glass baking dish (preferably one that has a cover)
10. Use remaining Monterey Jack as topping over mixture
11. Cover and bake until the mixture is bubbling hot, about 20 minutes
12. To add some color and texture to the cheese topping, uncover and continue to bake another 10 minutes
13. Serve hot with Triscuits
Note: This dish is easily reheatable in the microwave in your glass baking dish, and (by the way) I use my baking dish as the mixing bowl ... less to clean up.

It's become a favorite among the family and friends for whom I've made it. It's The Dip, The Biggest Dip at the party. It's a warming dish, tremendously suitable for those chilly and cold evenings of fall and winter, but I brought it as recently as Fourth of July to a family party. It's also very filling; it can almost stand alone as a meal. It holds up very well to reheating and every time you get that blast aroma of the garlic it's well worth it.
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