EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 21, 2014

A dip on the healthier side

By Sara Moulton
Associated Press

---- — Is there a chip dip in the world that isn’t wonderful? No matter what the flavor, at heart most are tubs of sour cream or melted cheese. Few foods are more satisfying.

Of course, most dips also are notoriously heavy with fat and calories. Indeed, that’s why we love them. Still, I figured there must be ways to lighten them up while retaining their luxurious texture.

I started by bulking up on the vegetables — in this case, artichokes and spinach. Artichokes happen to contain many nutrients and a ton of fiber. I chose canned artichokes rather than frozen because the canned are packed in citric acid, which gives them a lemony kick. But if you prefer frozen, you’ll need 2 cups thawed.

But why frozen spinach instead of fresh? Because you’d need to cook down a bathtub full of fresh spinach — or pretty darn near it — to end up with the equivalent of a cupful of frozen spinach. No one wants to do all that work before even starting to mix the dip. Also, a cup of frozen spinach boasts more than four times the nutrients of a cup of fresh spinach. It’s kind of hard to beat. And all I had to do was defrost it and squeeze it out. Easy.

Now, how to conjure up that rich, cheesy texture without employing a boatload of cheese? I started with Neufchatel, a French cream cheese that has one-third less fat than the full-fat version, but more flavor than the no-fat version. Then I added some low-fat sour cream for tang and a tiny bit of low-fat mayonnaise for the oil. You’re welcome to substitute extra-virgin olive oil, if you’d like.

Finally, there’s some Parmigiano-Reggiano, which bristles with so much flavor and salt that just a little bit of it — an ounce in this case — will do the trick. The full-fat version of this dip usually includes mozzarella, but I didn’t miss it, so I didn’t use it.

Hot And Spicy Artichoke Spinach Dip

Start to finish: 55 minutes (35 active)

Makes about 4 cups

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

13.75-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained

10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

4 ounces Neufchatel (low-fat cream cheese)

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise

1 ounce freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 3/4 cup grated using a wand-style grater)

1/2 cup medium chopped mild Peppadew peppers (about 2 ounces), or medium chopped roasted red peppers

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

Kosher salt

Crackers or low-fat pita crisps, to serve

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.

2. In a medium skillet over medium-low, heat the oil. Add the onion and saute, covered, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Uncover the pan and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown, about another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

3. In a food processor, pulse the artichokes until they are medium chopped, then transfer them to the skillet.

4. In the food processor combine the spinach, cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, then process until mixed. Add the mixture to the skillet, along with the peppers and pepper flakes. Stir well, then season with salt.

5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake on the oven’s middle shelf for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it is bubbling at the edges. Serve immediately with crackers or low fat pita crisps.

Nutrition information per 1/2 cup: 150 calories; 80 calories from fat (53 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 13 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 7 g protein; 540 mg sodium.

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”