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Home » Style » Food & Drink

Saturday, October 15, 2005
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Back to headlines
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Dips have great party appeal, especially during Steelers season


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Gorgonzolive Dip

Joe Appel/Tribune-Review

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Bagna Cauda

Joe Appel/Tribune-Review

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By Karin Welzel
Sunday, October 9, 2005

Dip is hip.

Party guests love to dunk, scoop and spread everything from cheese-based mixtures to hot garlicky olive oil spiked with spirits and -- don't tell anyone at first, lest they protest -- canned little fishies.

Why not consider a dip buffet for your next Steelers gathering or cocktail party? Most dips and their dippers can be made ahead with minimum last-minute fuss. In fact, dips usually taste better after an overnight visit to the refrigerator.

Most of your time will be taken prepping veggies or baking olive oil-basted pita or tortilla triangles, but that can be done ahead of time, also.

Here are some dips that differ from the norm. Be prepared to share the recipes.

Gorgonzolive Dip

This recipe was shared by Rania Harris, a Mt. Lebanon caterer and director of Rania's To Go Cooking School. Offer a knife or spreader so guests can easily transfer the dip to the pita crisps.

  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled gorgonzola cheese (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup pitted and chopped imported olives
  • 6 large cloves roasted garlic (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed
  • Pita Crisps (recipe follows)

In a bowl, combine the Gorgonzola, shallot, olives, roasted garlic and black pepper. Mix to combine, but be sure to leave the dip a bit chunky.

Stir in the olive oil, a little at a time, just enough to make a diplike consistency. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered.

Serve with Pita Crisps.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Pita Crisps

  • 4 (5-inch) pita rounds, white or whole-wheat or combination
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Using a very sharp knife or kitchen scissors, cut the rounds in half, then cut each half into 4 wedges. Pull each wedge apart, following the "pocket" separation, to make 2 wedges.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Dip and basting brush into the olive oil and lightly coat the inside part of each wedge. Place the wedges oiled-side up on a baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, turning the sheet 180 degrees after 5 minutes. The wedges will crisp and turn brown.

Remove the crisps to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Makes 64 wedges.

Bagna Cauda (Warm Bath)

Rita Venturino, director of Rita Venturino's Italian Table Cooking School in Richland, offers this classic hot Italian dip that will amaze family and friends. Expect a crowd to gather around for a dunking marathon, so keep plenty of dippers handy. When testing this recipe, the Trib food staff used clarified butter, which keeps the dip clear to the bottom. Also, bourbon can substitute for the brandy.

To quell the sharp bite of the raw garlic, soak the cloves in milk for a few hours.

  • 6 large canned flat anchovy fillets (1 small can), drained
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 6 small cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Crusty Italian bread, cut into slices, slices cut in half, for dipping
  • Bite-size vegetables, such as mini-mushrooms, sweet pepper strips, radicchio leaves, cauliflower or broccoli pieces, asparagus stalks or grape tomatoes, or a combination

Place the anchovies in a very small saucepan and mash them, using a wooden spoon. Add the olive oil, butter and garlic; gently simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. Add the brandy and black pepper. The mixture will bubble up as the alcohol burns off. When the bubbling subsides, return the pan to medium-low heat and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Transfer the dip to a chafing dish, warming tray or mini slow cooker. It should constantly simmer during serving.

Serve with bread and vegetables for dipping.

Deviled Crab Dip

This recipe is from "Everyday Celebrations: Savoring Food, Family and Life at Home" by Donata Maggipinto (Chronicle Books, $24.95 paperback). The author writes: "This richly satisfying, warm dip has a spicy bite, hence the description 'deviled.' A friend of mine calls it 'a never-ending crab cake.'"

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for greasing baking dish
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 sweet green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 3 cups fresh bread crumbs, divided
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shell
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Crudites or crackers, for serving

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 6-cup baking dish.

In a medium skillet or saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, for about 3 minutes. Add the green pepper and celery and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Put 2 cups of the bread crumbs in a large bowl and gradually stir the milk into the crumbs. Mix well. Let stand for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the crumbs are moistened evenly.

Add the crabmeat, onion mixture, parsley, lemon juice and dry mustard. Mix well. Add the cayenne, salt and black pepper.

Spoon the mixture into the baking dish. Place the remaining bread crumbs in a bowl. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and stir it into the crumbs. Toss the crumbs to coat with the butter, then sprinkle evenly over the crab mixture.

Bake until lightly browned, for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve with crudites or crackers.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Potted Bock Beer and Brie Spread

This recipe is from the National Beer Wholesalers Association. The dip complements bread sticks, raw vegetables or crackers. It works well on a buffet or as a passed hors d'oeuvre; serve it from a rustic crack or an elegant bowl. Pale Bock beer offers a sweet tangy finish. Bock beer is a dark, sweet, full-bodied lager traditionally brewed during the spring in Germany.

  • 2 wheels baby brie cheese, about 13 ounces each, rind removed
  • 4 ounces sharp white Cheddar cheese, cut into chunks
  • 2/3 cup pale bock beer
  • 1/3 cup dried tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white wine Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Crackers, raw vegetables, bread sticks, for serving

Cut the brie into small chunks. Place in a food processor with the Cheddar chunks, beer, dried tomatoes, horseradish sauce, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Pulse the mixture, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl, using a rubber spatula, until the mixture is fairly smooth, but with some bits of cheese present.

Add the parsley. Pulse the mixture just to incorporate. If the mixture is too thick, work in a little more beer until of the desired spreading consistency.

Pack into 2 (2-cup) crocks and cover the surface of the spread with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one day before serving to allow the flavors to blend.

The spread can be made as long as 1 week ahead; refrigerate.

Let the spread come to room temperature before serving. Accompany with crackers, raw vegetables, bread sticks or a combination.

Makes 4 cups.

Roasted Eggplant Dip with Spiced Pita Crisps

This milder cousin of baba ghannouj has no tahini, so you can fully taste the roasted eggplant. Be generous with the parsley; its fresh green taste pumps up the dip. The recipe is from "Party Appetizers: Small Bites, Big Flavors" by Tori Ritchie (Chronicle, $14.95).

For the dip:

  • 1 Italian eggplant, about 1 pound
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt, to taste

For the pita crisps:

  • 3 (6-inch) pita breads
  • Olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the whole eggplant in a baking dish just large enough to hold it and pierce the eggplant 2 or 3 times, using the tip of a knife. Place the garlic cloves on a small square of foil and splash them with a bit of oil. Close the garlic in the foil.

Put the foil packet in the dish alongside the eggplant and place them in the oven. Bake until the garlic is soft when squeezed -- open the packet to test it -- for about 35 minutes. Remove the garlic and let it cool in the foil.

Continue to bake the eggplant until it is wrinkled, soft and almost collapsed, for about 25 minutes more. Let it cool in the pan and leave the oven on.

While the eggplant cooks, make the pita crisps. Cut the pitas in half and peel them apart to make quarters. Arrange the quarters on a work surface and brush them well with oil. Stir together the salt, paprika and cayenne in a small ramekin or bowl and sprinkle them over the pita quarters.

Stack and cut the pita into wedges -- you should get 3 wedges per quarter, or 36 total.

Spread the wedges on baking sheets and bake them until crisp and golden, for about 12 minutes. The crisps can be cooled and stored airtight for as long as 2 days.

Cut the stem off the cooled eggplant and pull off and discard the skin. Chop the flesh and set it aside.

Peel the garlic cloves and put them in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the parsley and pulse until it is finely chopped. Add the chopped eggplant, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Pulse until combined -- do not puree.

Taste the dip and add salt and more lemon juice or oil -- or both -- as needed. Pulse again until the mixture is almost smooth; it should have the texture of guacamole.

If the dip is made ahead, transfer to a bowl and wrap with plastic wrap, pressing it right onto the surface. Refrigerate for as long as 2 days.

Serve the dip in a bowl surrounded with the pita crisps.

Makes 12 servings.

Barbecue-Spiced Squid with Cayenne-Blue Cheese Aioli

Fried calamari is a Pittsburgh favorite -- this unusual recipe uses a barbecue spice mix to coat the squid, which is dipped in a cayenne-blue cheese aioli at serving time. The recipe is from "Hot Hot Hot! Cooking with Fire and Spice" by Paul Gayler (Kyle Press, $19.95 paperback). Gayler is an English-born chef who has studied in Southeast Asia, the American Southwest and Mexico and has a fondness for North African, Mediterranean and Caribbean cuisines. He is executive chef at the Lanesborough Hotel in Hyde Park Corner, London.

The inspiration for this dish, the author writes, came from a trip to Houston, where he did a promotion for a hotel. "The chef took me to a restaurant called Pignetti's, where we drank tequilas all night, and the owner brought us a spicy deep-fried squid with a blue cheese sauce. Here is my slightly adapted version -- tequilas optional."

Cayenne-Blue Cheese Aioli (recipe follows)

  • 1 1/4 pounds cleaned small or medium squid
  • 2 tablespoons Barbecue Spice Mix (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • Salt and ground Szechuan pepper, to taste
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Make the Cayenne-Blue Cheese Aioli.

Slice the squid bodies into rings 1/4-inch thick and leave the tentacles in large pieces. Mix the Barbecue Spice Mix, cornstarch and baking powder. Heat some vegetable oil in a deep-fat fryer or a large, deep pot to 375 degrees.

Dip the squid pieces in the milk and then in the spice mix, shaking off any excess. Fry in batches in the hot oil for about 1 to 2 minutes, until brown and crisp. Do not overcook or the squid will be tough.

Remove the squid and drain on paper towels, then sprinkle with salt and Szechuan pepper. Serve immediately with the aioli and lemon wedges.

Makes 4 servings.

Cayenne-Blue Cheese Aioli

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt, to taste
  • 3/4 cup virgin olive oil
  • 3 ounces blue cheese (3/4 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a bowl, mix the egg yolks with the garlic, lemon juice and a little salt. Add the oil, drop by drop at first, whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth and thick. Gently mix the blue cheese with the hot water to form a paste, then mix into the sauce. Add the cayenne and more salt, if needed. Cover and refrigerate.

Barbecue Spice Mix

This mix can be sprinkled over vegetables or rubbed on fish or meat before barbecuing or broiling.

  • 1/4 cup crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon mild curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Transfer to an airtight container and seal well before storing. The mix will keep in a cool, dry place for about a month.

Lime Mousse Dip

Dip as dessert -- why not? The classic is chocolate fondue, but this Lime Mousse Dip is a refreshing change, and it lends itself to dippers such as blueberry bagel chips, fresh pineapple spears, wedges of plums or Toasted Pound Cake Crisps. The recipe is from "Delicious Dips" by Diane Morgan (Chronicle, $16.95).

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • Freshly grated zest of 2 large limes
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) crème fraîche
  • Toasted Pound Cake Crisps (recipe follows)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners' sugar, lime zest, nutmeg and salt. Mix on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, then beat on high speed until fluffy, for 1 minute longer. Add the lime juice and mix to blend in, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice.

In a separate bowl, whisk the creme fraiche, using a balloon whisk, until it holds soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold the creme fraiche into the cream cheese mixture. Transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the mixture to thicken. Serve chilled.

The dip can be prepared 1 day in advance. Cover and refrigerate.

Makes 2 cups.

Toasted Pound Cake Crisps

  • 1 loaf (10.75 ounces) frozen all-butter pound cake, thawed; or 1 loaf bakery pound cake.

Position the oven racks in the center and top third of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready 2 rimmed baking sheets.

Using a sharp knife, trim the ends of the pound cake and then cut the cake crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice on the diagonal to form 2 triangles. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the baking sheets. Bake until the slices are beginning to turn light brown at the edges, for about 5 minutes.

Turn the slices over, switch the position of the baking sheets and bake until the slices just begin to pick up color, for about 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Arrange in a basket or serving bowl and serve immediately.

The pound cake crisps are best served within 8 hours of making them. Store uncovered until serving.

Karin Welzel can be reached at or (412) 320-7992.

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