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Monday, October 10, 2011

Artichoke Dip

This appetizer dip is just about perfect!  Fast and easy to put together... easy to transport... loved by anyone I've ever known to try it! You can't smell or touch, but this wonderful crispy sourdough bowl just came out of the oven and the dip is hot and bubbly...
Creamy, cheesy, garlicky, texturally interesting... what's is not to love?!

1 cup            Parmigiano Reggiano   
1 cup            sour cream (I used the "lite" version)
1 package     Philadelphia cream cheese (I used the reduced fat version)
½ cup           Hellman’s mayonnaise
2                   large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 ½ tsp         white pepper
1 Tbsp          fresh dried dill
½ Tbsp         garlic powder
1 can            Reese artichoke hearts, chopped fairly fine.
to taste         salt & pepper
large round bread to make the bread bowl

*** for the updated recipe and step-by-step photo directions, click on Hot Parmesan Artichoke Dip

So... I sort of wish there was more to this and I could say it was complex or something.  But really, all you do is chop everything, mix together, and bake.  That's the sum total of the difficulty.  As a matter of fact, Brady is the one who basically made this today. 

  • The cheese should be “pulverized” in the food processor until its like powder.  This happens to be the fun part of the recipe.  Who doesn't love turning a big hunk of something into a fine, whirring powder in the food processor?  That’s the main key to this dish.  It can then be mixed with the other ingredients.  And for God's sake, please use a good quality Parmigiano Reggiano!  Do not use anything that comes in a can, or anything that is pre-shredded. 
  • We’ve prepared this recipe with lower fat versions of sour cream, cream cheese and mayonnaise.  The low fat versions do work well and you won’t miss the fat at all.  It does NOT, however, work well with the fat free versions. 
  • Tip - use the artichoke hearts packed in water, NOT the marinated ones.  Those have a totally different flavor.
  • We’ve also used ½ artichoke hearts and ½ hearts of palm (also packed in water).  The chopped hearts of palm work really well as well.  The final product just has a bit of a different texture, but is delicious.

 This may not look like that much, but OH my LORD it is SOoooo good!!!

 Remove the top from a large sourdough bun.  You could also use a big round loaf of Hawaiian bread.

Hollow it out, leaving a good inch or so of border.

Bake ½ hour @ 350oF in an oven safe casserole dish.  Dip will be hot and bubbly.   Before serving, add the dip to a hollowed out sourdough bread bowl.  Place back in the oven for about 20 minutes to crisp the bread bowl and heat the dip.  Serve with wheat thins, pita chips, the bread chunks that you removed, etc. I also think this would be a great filling for stuffed chicken breasts.

This dip is also wonderful the next day!

Food Notes:
Ahhh, Parmigiano-Reggiano, the "King" of Cheeses! This has to be our FAVORITE cheese.   Here's a bit of history... 

According to legend, Parmigiano-Reggiano was created in the course of the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia.  Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th-14th century Parmigiano was already very similar to that produced today which suggests that its origins can be traced to far earlier.

It was praised as early as 1348 in the writings of Boccaccio; in the Decameron, he invents ‘a mountain, all of grated Parmesan cheese,’ on which ‘dwell folk that do nought else but make macaroni and ravioli.   During the Great Fire of London of 1666, Samuel Pepys buried his ‘Parmazan cheese, as well as [his] wine and some other things’ in order to preserve them.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from raw cow's milk. The whole milk of the morning milking is mixed with the naturally skimmed milk (left in large shallow tanks to allow the cream to separate) of the previous evening's milking, resulting in a part skim mixture. There are 1100 L (290 gallons) of milk per vat, producing two cheeses each. The curd making up each wheel at this point weighs around 45 kg (100 lb). (You've probably seen these in Whole Foods.)  The remaining whey in the vat was traditionally used to feed the pigs from which "Prosciutto di Parma" (cured Parma ham) was produced. The barns for these animals were usually just a few yards away from the cheese production rooms.

The cheese is put into a stainless steel round form that is pulled tight with a spring powered buckle so the cheese retains its wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano-Reggiano name, the plant's number, and month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20–25 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves that can be 24 cheeses high by 90 cheeses long or about 4,000 total wheels per aisle. Each cheese and the shelf underneath it is then cleaned manually or robotically every 7 days. The cheese is also turned at this time.
Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano

At 12 months, the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano inspects each and every cheese. The cheese is tested by a master grader whose only instruments are a hammer and his ear. By tapping the wheel at various points, he can identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Those cheeses that pass the test are then heat branded on the rind with the Consorzio's logo. Those that don't pass the test used to have their rinds marked with lines or crosses all the way around to inform consumers that they are not getting top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano; more recent practices simply have these lesser rinds stripped of all markings.

Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay, producing grass fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet. The only additive allowed is salt, which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated to near total salinity with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged an average of two years. The cheese is produced daily, and it can show a natural variability. True Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese has a sharp, complex fruity/nutty taste with a strong savory flavor and a slightly gritty texture. Inferior versions can impart a bitter taste.
The average Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel is about 18–24 centimetres (7.1–9.4 in) high, 40–45 centimetres (16–18 in) in diameter, and weighs 38 kilograms (84 lb).

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