Remember when party food meant your mom proudly setting out a Pyrex dish or hollowed-out sourdough round filled with gooey, warm dip, heavy on Best Foods mayonnaise and Philadelphia cream cheese? It may seem so yesterday. It is so not. Because this winter, hot dips are hot. Especially when given a modern flourish with gourmet ingredients such as truffle oil, feta cheese, dried porcini, kalamata olives, fresh Dungeness crab and bacalao (salted cod). And even more so, when you take the extra step to accompany each with a distinctive cocktail or perfectly matched glass of wine.
Ring in 2006 with these six contemporary hot dips. The white bean and roasted garlic puree has no cream, but gets its luscious texture from pureed white beans and baked potatoes. The mushroom and Swiss dip boasts a deep, earthy flavor not only from dried porcini, but also from a mix of fresh wild mushrooms.
The bagna cauda will have guests swooning the moment the intoxicating truffle oil hits the hot pan. This particular brandade de morue lets the fish star because it doesn't include potato as a filler as many other versions do.
Roasted feta with olives and red peppers is an absolutely addicting blend of sweet-salty-rich. And hot crab dip is a showstopper with a shower of slivered almonds and the subtle kick of horseradish.
A fondue pot, warming tray or small chafing dish is handy to keep these dips warm. But if you don't have any of those, don't worry.
Just bring out the hot dip in a warmed serving dish when most of your guests have arrived, and let them know the time to dig in is now.
For each dip, Reggie Narito, a master sommelier, has chosen a wine that complements, but won't bankrupt - although there is one extravagant suggestion, if you're in the mood to splurge.
For guests who prefer spirits, the hip mixologists at the San Francisco Bay Area's Sino and Straits restaurants - owned by Chris Yeo - have concocted a different easy cocktail for each dip. Dazzle with an elegant flute of champagne with a sweet, floral lychee bobbing in it. Or a spa-like martini with a curl of cucumber. Or a pretty pink sidecar in a sugar-rimmed glass garnished gaily with fresh cranberries.
A cold dip on a winter night says: Here, tide yourselves over with this while we get the rest of dinner started. But a warm dip at this time of year really says welcome in a big way: Come gather around, we made this special, so let's indulge and really live it up.
And what better way to usher in a new year?
HOT MUSHROOM AND SWISS DIP
(Makes 3-1/2 cups)
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms; rinsed under cold water to remove grit
1 cup hot water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 ounces assorted wild mushrooms, such as cremini and stemmed shiitake, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped shallots
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup homemade or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Swiss cheese 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste For dipping:
Blanched broccoli and cauliflower florets, carrot sticks, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, zucchini slices
Soak dried mushrooms in hot water in a small bowl until softened, about 20 minutes.
Drain in a sieve lined with moistened paper towels, reserving soaking liquid.
Coarsely chop mushrooms.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they give off their liquid, about 5 minutes.
Add chopped soaked mushrooms and their liquid and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms begin to brown, about 7 minutes. Stir in shallots and thyme, and cook until shallots are softened, about 1 minute.
Meanwhile, bring broth and milk to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat, or use a microwave.
Sprinkle mushrooms with the flour, mixing well. Reduce heat to low and stir to cook the flour without browning, about 1 minute.
Gradually whisk in hot broth mixture. Bring to a simmer and cook until the dip is lightly thickened and no raw flour taste remains, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in Swiss and Parmesan cheeses until melted.
Season with salt and pepper. (The dip can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated. Reheat in a double boiler.)
Transfer to a heat-proof serving dish. Serve hot.
TRUFFLED BAGNA CAUDA
(Makes about 1 cup)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon white truffle oil, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Baby artichoke hearts, cooked; blanched broccoli and cauliflower florets; celery sticks; cherry tomatoes; fennel bulb, cut into sticks; mushroom caps; cooked tiny new potatoes; red pepper strips
Combine 2 tablespoons of oil, anchovies and garlic in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until garlic is softened and anchovies are dissolved, about 3 minutes.
Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil and butter and heat, stirring often, until butter is melted. Stir in truffle oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small fondue pot and keep warm over a low flame. You also can serve it in a butter warmer, or in a cast-iron skillet on a warming tray. Serve hot, with chilled crudites.
BRANDADE DE MORUE
(Makes 6 servings)
1 pound boneless salt cod (bacalao), soaked overnight in several changes of cold water (see Note)
2 garlic cloves, peeled, or to taste
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup heavy cream or milk
Salt and black pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Place salt cod in one layer in a skillet or saucepan with water to cover; bring water to a boil, turn off the heat, and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and pick out any stray bones or pieces of skin.
Place cod in a food processor with garlic and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Start processing and, through the feed tube, add small amounts of olive oil alternating with small amounts of cream.
Continue until the mixture becomes smooth, creamy and light. (You may not need all of the oil and cream.)
Add salt and pepper, some of the lemon juice and nutmeg. Blend and taste; the mixture may need a bit of salt and more lemon juice. (You can prepare the dish several hours or even a day ahead to this point; cover and refrigerate until you're ready to eat.)
Reheat brandade if necessary, in a double-boiler or in a 300-degree oven, covered. Serve with bread, toast or crackers.
Note: Bacalao - cod that has been salted and dried - is originally from northern Europe, though perhaps most closely associated with Spain and Portugal.
Salt cod will keep for weeks or even months in your refrigerator (and eternally in your freezer). Using it is pretty straightforward, if time-consuming: Soak it for at least a few hours (overnight is better), changing the water when you think of it, until the water is not intolerably salty when you taste it. Then poach for a few minutes in water or milk until tender, as outlined in the recipe directions above.
ROASTED FETA WITH OLIVES AND RED PEPPERS
(Makes 4 servings)
1/2 pound feta (preferably Greek), rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup bottled roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
10 Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted, rinsed, and coarsely chopped (1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Lemon wedges, toasted pita wedges or crusty bread
Cut cheese into 1/2-inch-thick slices and arrange in 1 layer in a large flameproof baking dish, then sprinkle with oregano and black pepper. Stir together roasted peppers, olives and oil in a small bowl, then spoon mixture over and around cheese.
Broil 2 to 4 inches from heat until edges of cheese are golden, about 5 minutes.
Garnish with chopped parsley, and serve with lemon wedges, toasted pita wedges or crusty bread.
This is more of a hot spread than a dip. But guests are bound to devour this salty-peppery-cheesy creation.
HOT CRAB DIP
(Makes 10 servings)
1 tablespoon instant onion flakes
3 tablespoons milk
1-1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
3 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, regular kind, at room temperature
2 6-ounce cans crab, drained and flaked OR 1-1/4 cups real Dungeness crab, cooked and picked over for shell pieces
Crackers, toasted brioche or thin-sliced pumpernickel bread
Mix onion flakes, milk, horseradish, Worcestershire and Tabasco. Add softened cream cheese, mix well. Stir in crab.
Spread in a small, buttered, ovenproof dish and sprinkle with almonds.
Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or until bubbly and brown.
Serve warm with crackers, toasted brioche or thin-sliced pumpernickel bread.
This dip is best if mixed and assembled the day before so the flavors have time to meld. Just refrigerate overnight; the next day, bring it to room temperature before baking.
Originally, this recipe was made with canned crab. But with Dungeness season in full-force locally, why not use the fresh stuff for a real treat?
White bean and roasted garlic puree
(Makes about 2-1/2 cups)
1 cup dried cannellini, white kidney, Great Northern, baby lima or other white beans
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 thick onion wedge
6 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
1 cup 1/2-inch cubes peeled baked potatoes
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Grilled or toasted French bread, for serving
Pick over, rinse and soak dried beans in water to cover 8 to 12 hours. Drain.
Place in a large saucepan with enough water to cover by 2 inches and add bay leaf, sprig of fresh thyme, and onion wedge.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until beans are tender, about 1 hour.
Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Discard bay leaf and thyme. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
In an 8-ounce custard cup or small baking dish, combine garlic cloves and olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until golden but not browned, about 35 minutes. Let cool slightly.
In a food processor, puree reserved cooking liquid with baked potato cubes, basil and salt. (If using canned beans, use 1/2 cup water or vegetable stock in place of reserved cooking liquid.)
Add cooked beans and roasted garlic with oil. Process until smooth.
Stir in ground black pepper.
Serve hot with grilled or toasted French bread. Dip can be made the day before, covered and refrigerated.
To serve the next day, allow to come to room temperature, and bake covered in a 300-degree oven until warmed through.
If you're pressed for time, you can used canned beans instead of cooking dried ones. And other fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme or marjoram can be substituted for the basil; just add to taste.