Chipotle Shrimp with Crema Verde

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The flavor of chipotle chile peppers is one of my favorite flavors – up there with garlic, cilantro, curry, pesto, and fish sauce.

Chipotle chile peppers are jalapeños which are dried and smoked. I don’t understand why they can’t be called smoked jalapeños, but no one asked my opinion. So chipotles they are.

You can purchase them whole and already ground. They also come in a can all plumped up in adobo sauce.


However you use chipotles, they add a unique, spicy smokiness to whatever food you’re preparing, whether you’re adding them to an enchilada sauce, seasoning flank steak, or spicing up a mayo.

Today I needed to make an appetizer with shrimp. I immediately thought of chipotle for seasoning – a fairly strong flavor that works with shrimp. Just for fun I also made a crema verde for a cool balance to the spicy shrimp.

Here’s what I did.
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Chipotle Shrimp with Crema Verde

Crema Verde
12 ounces crema or sour cream
2 ounces chopped green chiles
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and dried
Salt, optional

To make the crema verde, place the Crema and green chiles in a small food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.


Gradually add cilantro leaves, processing as you add them, until the whole bunch of cilantro has been incorporated into the Crema.

Cover and refrigerate overnight if you’re not going to use right away. However, serve at room temperature.
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Chipotle Shrimp
3/4 pound medium-size shrimp, cleaned
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons ground chipotle chile pepper
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil, as necessary

Make sure the cleaned shrimp are dry using paper towels. Place them in a large bowl and toss them gently in oil.


Add the chipotle, salt, and pepper. You can always season more after the shrimp are cooked.

Heat a little oil in a large, flat skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the shrimp in one layer, turning them over with tongs after only 1-2 minutes. The time will depend on the size of the shrimp. Typically they are done as soon as they turn from translucent to opaque and pink.

Cook the remaining batches and place the warm shrimp on a platter.
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Sprinkle more chipotle powder, or even ground sweet paprika if desired and serve with the crema verde.
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Besides being a fabulous and easy appetizer, the shrimp served over a layer of the crema verde, topped with a sprig of cilantro, would also be a wonderful first course to a southwestern-inspired meal.

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The Other Polenta

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The most well known version of Italian polenta, in my experience, is the soft and creamy porridge style – what we call grits in the United States. Savory and hearty for breakfast or as a dish served similar to risotto – topped with braised mushrooms, grilled shrimp, or simply with cheese. If you want a grits recipe, check out grits with eggs and red sauce.

But there’s another way to prepare and serve polenta, which I’m calling “the other polenta.” It also deserves a little attention and respect.

This kind of polenta is more like a soft yet dense cornbread. As with American cornbread, this bread-like polenta is wonderful served with stews, pasta, soups, or even salads. It also makes a fabulous appetizer, topped with cheese and served with white wine.

Lorenza de-Medici refers to this polenta appetizer as crostini di polenta. In her cookbook The Villa Table, she states, “I always make more polenta than a recipe requires in order to have some for making crostini for the next day!” It’s a great idea!

I’ve seen polenta used in so many ways in Italian cookbooks, like molded into a timbale served with a meaty ragu, or as dumplings, or layered into a casserole or pie. But however polenta is used, it comes down to preparing the softer creamy version, or the drier, sliceable variety that I’m making today.

So here’s how make the other polenta:

Have 2 cups of cornmeal on hand in a bowl.
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Heat 6 cups of slightly salted water in a heavy pot on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil, slowly pour in the cornmeal.
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Whisk well, then turn the heat down to the lowest position, cover the pot and let the polenta cook for 30 minutes.
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Remove the lid and give the polenta a stir. Depending on the grind of the cornmeal, it might be cooked already. Give it a taste and test if it’s gritty, which would indicate more cooking time required.

My polenta looks a bit grainy because it’s a coarser grind, but it’s fully cooked.
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Add a little more water if you feel it could stick to the pot, but keep the additional water to a minimum. Then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes more, still over the lowest possible heat.

Butter a 9″ x 13″ cake pan. You can also use a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.


While still hot, pour the polenta into the pan. (If you want to make this kind of polenta the traditional way, you can also pour the polenta onto a large, clean work surface or board.)
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Let the polenta cool completely, even overnight, covered tightly with foil.

When you are ready to finish the polenta, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the cooled polenta with grated cheese; I used Gruyère.
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Then bake the polenta until the cheese barely browns a bit, about 30 minutes. The baking of the polenta dries it out, or solidifies it more, if you will, plus it melts the cheese. This step could probably be done under the broiler if you feel your polenta is stiff enough to already slice.

Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
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To slice, flip the pan of polenta over onto a large platter, then flip it onto a cutting board, cheesy side up. Alternatively, slice inside your pan if it’s not non-stick like mine.


Cut squares or strips of polenta and serve warm. With wine, of course.
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Today I served the baked polenta with a fresh asparagus soup!
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Alternatively, you can cut squares or shapes of the polenta, place them on an oiled baking sheet and then bake them. I’ve seen so many different variations that I don’t think it matters as long as you eventually get to the lovely cheesy polenta. In fact, I’ve seen polenta squares fried on both sides before serving, and also grilled. But I like the easier way of keeping everything in the cake pan, then slicing.

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If you love polenta or grits, you will surely loved baked polenta!
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note: You can use chicken broth in this recipe if you feel the polenta might be too bland for your taste.

Crab Dip

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As much as I don’t want to admit this factoid, the crab dip I prepared for the blog is a Martha Stewart recipe.

What she calls “Hot Crab Dip” is out of the cookbook “Martha Stewart’s Hors D’oeuvres Handbook,” which was published in 1999.

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She might not have been a convict at the time the book was published, but my reluctance to ever buy any of her cookbooks was based on her attitude that I’ve witnessed on tv, not because she was a jailbird. I’m all for confidence and knowledge, which she definitely exudes, but it’s her haughtiness that turns me off. Something us Americans might call snottiness.

But somehow this hors d’oeuvres cookbook appealed to me and I purchased it. At the time I was doing a lot of catering, and most of my parties were of the “finger food” variety, not sit-down dinner parties. And honestly, the cookbook was inspirational to me, as much as I don’t want to admit it.

I think Ms. Stewart may have been the first to use serious food styling in cookbooks; food magazines had been doing it for a while. The photos in this book are stunning. And they’re a little misleading.

I remember talking to a bride-to-be about her wedding reception food, and she opened up bookmarked pages from this same cookbook. She showed me photos of little cucumber cups, carefully carved out with a melon baller, hollowed out cherry tomatoes, and my favorite – glasses filled with equal-length celery, asparagus, cucumbers, yellow runner beans, jicama, carrots, and green onions.
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It was certainly pretty in the photographs, but for 250 people I had to explain to the young lady that all of the prep work would take hours and hours. And hours. Wouldn’t she rather spend money on actual food than my time spent carving vegetables?

In any case, I’d never made a crab dip until I saw the one in this cookbook, so I guess I must thank Martha Stewart. Because it’s served warm, it’s a great dip in the winter time, and has always been a crowd pleaser.

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So here is the original recipe.

Hot Crab Dip
Makes 3 1/2 cups

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/4 cup 1/2 and 1/2
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
4 ounces sharp white Cheddar cheese, grated
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
10 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage*
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Have your crab meat prepared. I had to use frozen crab legs, thaw them, remove the meat from the shells, and then pat them dry with paper towels. Chop finely.


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with the rack in the center.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft, about 2 minutes.
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Add 1 tablespoon of water and simmer for 30 seconds. (I don’t remember ever doing this!)

Stir in the cayenne, Old Bay, and dry mustard until well combined. Pour the 1/2 and 1/2 into the saucepan and bring to a simmer.
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Slowly whisk in the cream cheese, a few pieces at a time. When the cream cheese is fully incorporated, whisk in the Cheddar cheese a bit at a time.

(When you’re melting cheese like this, do it at the lowest temperature. It takes time, but you don’t want to “cook” the cheese, only melt it. And keep stirring.)

Stir the mixture for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice and Worcestershire and stir to combine. Add the crabmeat and half of the parsley and stir.


Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof baking dish and sprinkle with the bread pieces.

Dot the top of the bread pieces with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle with the paprika. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until the bread pieces are golden and the dip is hot.


Garnish with the remaining parsley. I served the dip warm with pita chips.
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As an alternative, use pre-made phyllo cups for a fancier presentation. Fill them up with the hot crab dip and serve!
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The phyllo crunch and the creamy dip is a lovely combination. And these are bite size! Just make sure to fill the cups at the last minute so they don’t get soggy.

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* Fresh crabmeat is difficult for me to get my hands on, and frozen crab is waterlogged, but what I won’t use is that nasty fake crab made from sweetened white fish, that is shaped in to rubbery pieces to mimic actual crab legs, shown below.

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note: Although the first time I made this I probably followed the recipe, I’ve never since included the bread topping. I used 3 tablespoons of butter, melted, mixed with about 1/3 cup of Panko bread crumbs and sprinkled the mixture on to the crab dip, followed by the paprika.

Tapeschetta

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Tapeschetta is a combination of tapenade and bruschetta. One evening when I had short notice that a few girlfriends were coming over, I quickly made this appetizer.

It evolved from wanting to make a bruschetta, but running out of tomatoes. So to stretch what I had, I added some previously prepared tapenape. And it worked well!

So here’s approximately what I did. If you ever can’t decide between bruschetta and tapenape, try both!
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Tapeschetta

1 – 8 ounce jar marinated mixed olives, pitted
1 – 4 ounce can black olives, pitted
1 small jar sliced pimientos, optional
2 shallots, diced
4-5 Roma tomatoes
Lots of basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup good balsamic vinegar
Crostini or crackers

Place the olives and pimientos in the jar of a food processor and pulse until the olives are in small pieces.

Place the mixture in a medium bowl.

De-seed the tomatoes, and let them drain a bit on paper towels.
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Dice the tomatoes and add them to the olives in the bowl.


Dice the shallots and add them to the bowl as well.
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For the basil, make a chifonnade of basil leaves by rolling same-size leaves up like a cigar, then slicing across the cigar horizontally. Avoid the stems.

Mix everything together gently. Add the olive oil and vinegar.

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Stir again gently, and let the tapeschetta sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.
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You can add more chifonnade of basil on top, if you wish.
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I think the key to this delicious mixture is to keep the ratio of the olives to the tomatoes about fifty-fifty. That way you get to enjoy every aspect of it. But you can adjust the ratio as you wish.

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When I make this again, I will serve it with crostini instead of fresh bread, like I did originally. It’s just better on toasted bread, I think.

Roasted Okra

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Quite a few years ago, I was at a girlfriend’s beautiful loft for dinner, and for someone who doesn’t really love cooking, she had really put out an impressive spread of hors d’oeuvres.

Among those hors d’oeuvres were roasted okra. I was a bit hesitant at first. I’d only had okra in Creole dishes, and there is this dog slobber-type slime that I had previously associated with okra. But I’m glad I tried them!

Not only did I immediately become addicted to these roasted okra, I found out that they were made from frozen okra! Wow.

So I had to make them myself. They’re so easy, and only take a little bit of time for the thawing process. Other than that, all you’ll need is an oven.
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Roasted Okra

1 or 2 1-pound packages frozen whole okra
Olive oil
Salt or seasoning salt

Starting the day before, thaw the bag of frozen okra in the refrigerator overnight.
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The next morning, place the okra in a large colander. Give them a little rinse, then let them drain for at least 4 hours.
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Place the okra on paper towels and let them “dry” up. There should be no very little “wetness” left to them.
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Preheat the oven to a roast position, or to at least 400 degrees Farenheit. Place the okra in a large roasting pan or jelly roll pan, making sure there’s not too much overlap. Drizzle on olive oil, and season with salt or your favorite seasoning salt. I used a favorite spice blend that my girlfriend Gabriella brings me from Trader Joe’s.
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Roast the okra for about 20-25 minutes, tossing them once during the process. They should be roasted on all sides.

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Cook longer if there’s not sufficient browning. The roasting time depends on how full of water they are. Turn out the okra onto a serving platter.
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You might want to add a fun coarse salt to them as well, but taste them first to test the saltiness.


I made a little Sriracha mayo for dipping, but they’re wonderful just by themselves.
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Be careful. They seriously are addicting!


And not slimy.

Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

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I’ve rarely made the same dish twice since I began cooking. Thus my motto: “so much food, so little time!” I truly live by this only because there is always something new to make, or variations to try. It’s just fun for me to cook and eat that way.

My husband really enjoys it, I think, because he grew up with the Monday night meal, the Tuesday night meal, and so forth. Seven meals, exactly the same, every week. Not fun.

There are a few dishes that my kids request when they visit home. One loves my black bean enchiladas, the other loves my salads with salmon, but even these are never the same because I don’t follow recipes. But one thing both of them enjoy and request often during the warm months, is this cilantro garlic shrimp.

In this shrimp appetizer, cilantro adds a wonderful freshness, and pairs so well with fresh garlic. So this shrimp is wonderful in the spring and summer, for any kind of get-together.

Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

Cooked shrimp, tail or no tail, preferably poached
Olive oil, about 1 cup
Fresh garlic, 5-6 cloves if you want a sharp flavor
Fresh cilantro, a whole bunch
Salt

Spread out the cooked shrimp on paper towels to dry if necessary, then place in a bowl and keep refrigerated.

To prepare the marinade, pour the olive oil into a blender jar. Add a generous amount garlic cloves, fresh cilantro, stems and all, and a little salt.


Blend until smooth, then pour over the shrimp and toss. Don’t overdo it – you just want the shrimp coated, but not drowning in the marinade. If you have any left over, keep it for chicken. It’s fabulous!
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This shrimp can be made the day before, and kept refrigerated, but take it out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving, so the olive oil doesn’t remain coagulated.
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If you like the addition of lemon juice in this cilantro and garlic mixture, do not let the shrimp sit for long. In fact, serve as soon as possible. The lemon juice will cook and mush up the shrimp.

note: You could marinate cleaned, raw shrimp in this cilantro-garlic mixture, and then grill them, but it’s never quite the same. Some liquid always leaks out of the shrimp and they can’t be grilled properly. So that’s why I use pre-cooked shrimp. That way you’ve got perfectly cooked shrimp, coated with the lovely “marinade.”

Foja de Noce

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When the holidays are approaching most all cooks and bakers I know begin thinking about festive treats and Christmas cookies. But not me. I think cheese. I begin collecting Gruyère for pasta, Fontina for savory tarts, Reblochon for potatoes, Époisses for hors d’oeuvres, and raclette and fondue cheeses for special feasts with family and friends.

Thanks to reading blogs, about food, of course, I recently came across one called Di Bruno Bros. From the blog I discovered their website, simply called dibruno.com.

The Di Bruno story is a typical one from 1930, with 2 Italian brothers moving from Italy to Philadelphia via Ellis Island. There they opened the successful Di Bruno Bros. grocery store, but in 1965 the store became primarily a cheese shop. Eventually the sons and other Di Bruno relatives took over the business, and they expanded the products with international gourmet items, and opened new store locations.

Also because of the blog, I discovered and ordered the cookbook Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese – a guide to wedges, recipes, and pairings. The author is Tenaya Darlington, who also blogs as Madame Fromage.

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Because of where I live, I have to be my own cheesemonger. My local grocery store does a decent job, but they’re not going to put out cheeses that the bulk of the population won’t buy. So I make purchases when I travel, and order online a lot, as much as my diet allows. French cheeses are my favorites overall, but the world of artisanal cheeses in the US has really grown, which is a fabulous trend.

So the book appealed to me because cheeses are described in delightful prose. I love the names of the chapters, such as ‘The Quiet Ones,” “Vixens” and “The Stinkers.” But also there are recipes associated with some of the cheeses, provided by the Di Bruno Bros. kitchen, and also notes from their professional cheesemongers. So what’s not to love!

All of my favorite cheeses that I mentioned above are in this book, but I also love that they wrote about two of my favorite American cheeses. One is an old standby for my family – Humboldt Fog by Cypress Grove Chèvre, and a recent discovery – Red Hawk by Cowgirl Creamery.

In the introduction, the author writes, quoting a cheesemaker, that “making a cheese with pasteurized milk is like trying to bake a cake with hard-boiled eggs.” Love it.

To get to the point of this post, one cheese in the book especially caught my attention – Foja de Noce – an Italian sheep’s milk cheese that I’d never heard of. It’s wrapped in walnut leaves and aged in mountain caves. Drinks suggested for pairing include Barolo, a pint of amber, or Scotch ale. Hmmmm.

Here is the cheese. It’s a Pecorino, and has a delightful flavor, similar to an aged Manchego. To quote the author, which will give you an idea of her writing style, “it has all the primal whomp of a nutty, aged sheep’s milk cheese, and yet there is so much more going on: a lazy kind of sweetness, a buttery stealth that lingers, a dreamy, woodsy depth.”

The recipe using this cheese was intriguing to me because it’s a tapenade which not only contains olives, which is to be expected, but made with Foja de noce and smoked almonds. I’ve posted on tapenade before on the blog, and I’ve only been familiar with olive-heavy tapenades. So i knew i just had to make it. It was a good excuse to try the cheese, besides.

I’m typing the recipe as it’s written, but please take note below on my changes.

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Sicilian Olive and Smoked Almond Tapenade
from Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese

1/4 pound Foja de Noce, grated (I crumbled)
1/3 cup smoked almonds (I’m assuming whole almonds)
1/3 cup dry-cured Sicilian olives*, pitted
1 small garlic clove
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor.
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Puree until the mixture is finely chopped, about the consistency of pesto. This photo shows the tapenade on its way to become pesto-like in consistency.
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You may need to add a couple tablespoons of water if the paste is too thick. Because I most likely used more olives, no extra liquid was required (see note). Covered, this tapenade will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

The author suggest serving the tapenade with pita crisps or baguette rounds, and also suggests using it as a spread in a sandwich. Delicious.

I served the tapenade with browned flatbread triangles.
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The recipe states that Pecorino or Parmesan could replace the Foja de Noce.
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* I used Castelvetrano olives, which aren’t dry cured, but they’re the only Sicilian olives I could get my hands on.

note: I’m not going to rant (again) on poorly written recipes, but honestly, 1/3 cup of olives? About four olives fit into my measuring cup and so I gave up and decided to pit them first, then I weighed out 3 ounces. It perhaps wasn’t quite the right ratio, but the end result was delicious nonetheless. The rest of the recipe I followed exactly, because I was so intrigued with the ingredients, especially the smoked almonds and honey.

verdict: I will make this. Over and over again. It’s my new favorite spread.

Rosemary’d Dip

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Bean dips are so delicious and versatile, and easily enjoyed year round. One of my favorites is White Bean Dip with spices. This one is similar in the use of white beans, but instead of spices, I only use fresh rosemary. So if you like rosemary, you’ll love this dip.

I don’t know if this is as much a dip or a spread, since I typically serve it with a spreader, especially with guests. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a soft, spreadable purée of rosemary-flavored white beans. It can served in a bowl alongside breads and crackers, as I have, or creatively topped on crostini for a prettier presentation.

And let’s not forget the healthful benefits of beans. It’s wonderful to enjoy a delicious appetizer that’s actually good for us!

Rosemary’d White Bean Dip

2 cans Great Northern Beans, well drained and rinsed
1/4 good extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves*
1/2 teaspoon salt

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Place the drained beans in the jar of a food processor. Add the olive oil and the garlic, and puree until the mixture is smooth. I always process the garlic first to ensure there are no pieces of garlic left, then proceed with the recipe.

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I remove the germ from my garlic when I’m using it fresh in a recipe like this, and it’s not going to be cooked, like in a stew. Supposedly the germ is bitter. I’ve not tested this theory, but I do remove it when making this dip. I want a delicious fresh garlic flavor – not a flavor that is bitter and overly pungent. This is especially the case when the garlic is trying to sprout and the germs get quite large. I completely avoid them.

Scape down the puréed beans in the jar and process again.

If you’ve picked your rosemary early in the day, simply stick them in water to keep them fresh. I routinely do this even though I’m not sure how much it helps! I figure it can’t hurt.

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Then add the rosemary leaves and salt to the beans. If you think that the bean purée could be a little softer, add another tablespoon of olive oil. Pulse just to combine, then add the rosemary and salt. If you’re making it about 3-4 hours before serving, definitely make it on the soft side, because the beans will absorb the oil. But I wouldn’t make it any earlier then 3 or 4 hours.

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Place the dip in a serving bowl and serve at room temperature with assorted breads, and/or crackers. Vegetables are good with it, too.

If you make this dip a few hours before serving, keep it at room temperature; don’t refrigerate it. It’s not good refrigerated overnight, either. It just loses the good texture.

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* My rosemary this time of year is much less pungent than in the summer, so depending when you make this dip, make sure you taste it. Fresh rosemary can be very strong. But whatever you do, don’t use dried rosemary.

note: You could certainly use garbanzo beans in this recipe, but I prefer white beans for dips. You can see how soft and smooth they are in the photo after they’ve been pureed with the oil and garlic. In my experience, garbanzo beans never get this smooth, which is why I prefer white beans. I’ve heard that if the garbanzos are peeled, they will become smoother, but I’m not about to bother with that extra step.