I was asked, recently, whether I have a signature dish, something I’m known for making. My response was that strangely, I don’t. One of my flaws in the realm of cooking is that I enjoy trying new recipes so much that I often forget to go back and make the things I like again.
But, back when folks regularly had potlucks and parties and such, they often hoped I would bring my baked spinach dip. I'm looking forward to making it for my friends and family again soon.
I’ve been making this simple but delectable dip, adapted from a Taste of Home recipe, for more than a decade. People often ask for the recipe and I’m always willing to share — I’m not one of those recipe hoarders, after all. But if we happen to be attending the same party where we’re asked to take a dish to share, I hope you’ll check with me before deciding to bring this one! I always get first dibs.
Aside from the cheesy goodness, I like the flexibility. The dip can be made a day or two in advance and refrigerated, then baked the day of the party. The recipe calls for it to be baked in sourdough, but any round loaf will do. You can bake the extra dip separately, or it is good uncooked as well.
It is easy to pop in the oven an hour before your guests arrive, and because it’s baked in foil, it stays nice and toasty if you’re traveling to someone else’s party. Also, as it cools on a party table, it still tastes good, unlike some baked dips that turn into coagulated yuckiness after half an hour or so.
You have many options for accompaniments. Crudités are always nice and I am particularly fond of red, yellow and orange bell peppers. Tortilla chips are another good choice, and the blue corn variety is especially pretty. Pita chips, crackers, pretzels, toasted bread cubes — whatever strikes your fancy. I once made breakfast on the fly by wrapping some dip in a flour tortilla and heating it briefly in the microwave.
Yep, I did it and I am not ashamed.
DISCLAIMER: This is not a low-fat dish. The original recipe specifically says not to use fat-free cream cheese or mayonnaise. That’s ok. I personally dislike things that weren’t meant to be fat-free or low-fat but were somehow made that way. I’ll tout the Daisy brand of light sour cream as an exception. It doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything. I sometimes buy Neufchatel cheese, which naturally has 1/3 less fat than regular cream cheese, but I’ve never tried it in this recipe. Why mess with perfection?
The original recipe called for cooked crumbled bacon, but that was too much decadence, even for me! Choosing to dial it back a bit and make it vegetarian in one fell swoop, I’ve substituted chopped water chestnuts. They add a nice crunch amidst all that creaminess.
At any rate, you’re not going to be eating this dip every day (are you?). Treat yourself. It does have a substantial amount of spinach in it, so you can pat yourself on the back for eating your vegetables.
Baked Spinach Dip
(adapted from Taste of Home Best Holiday Recipes 2008)
Bring 16 oz cream cheese to room temperature. Thaw a package of frozen chopped spinach (between 10 and 14 ounces) and squeeze out the extra moisture with paper towels.
In a large bowl, blend the softened cream cheese with 1 cup of mayonnaise. An electric hand mixer makes quick work of this. Stir in the spinach, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 to 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 TB dried dill and 1 can water chestnuts, coarsely chopped.
Slice off the top of a round loaf (about 1 pound) of sourdough or Italian bread. Set the lid aside. Hollow out the bottom with a small sharp knife, leaving a shell of about ½ inch.
If you’d like, and if you were careful enough while hollowing out the bread bowl, you can cube the removed bread and broil on a baking sheet for a couple of minutes until golden brown. The cubes can then be used as dippers. If you’re not so careful, like me, you can save the removed bread to make your own breadcrumbs.
Fill the bread shell with the spinach dip. Put the top back on the bread bowl. Wrap the bread tightly and completely in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour at 350 until the dip is heated through and bubbly.
Additional dip can be baked, covered, in a lightly greased casserole dish for about 45 minutes.