Hot Spinach Red Pepper Dip

New Year’s Eve is just around the corner, and for many of us, it’s one last binge of decadent dips and desserts before the inevitable post-holiday commitment to better eating habits and exercise.

Of course, for those who would like to start pretending that their eating habits are already improving before the New Year hits, this crowd-pleasing hot spinach red pepper dip should do the trick. There are two vegetables listed right there in the recipe’s name – so it must be good for you, right?

Okay, while I can’t promise much nutritional value from this recipe, I can attest to its phenomenal taste. By far, it’s my favorite spinach dip recipe to make – rich and creamy from the combination of cheeses, with just enough of a kick from the red pepper flakes to make you immediately want to dive back in for more. And it’s the perfect hot dip to prepare for a New Year’s Eve party, as it can be made earlier in the day and kept warm in a Crock-Pot or even made the day before, refrigerated and reheated.

As you prepare this dip, be sure to squeeze out as much water as you can from your softened pepper and spinach using a colander and paper towels. Excess water could make your dip runny rather than thick and creamy, so spend the extra time pressing firmly down on the vegetables to remove any leftover liquid.

When chopping your bell pepper, don’t waste any unnecessary time and effort by cutting it in half and de-seeding it, as many people do. Instead, my favorite way is to cut off the very top of the pepper to remove the stem, then cut the very bottom of the pepper to stabilize it. Then, simply cut the lobes off, leaving the middle section with the seeds intact. To avoid any waste, you can then trim the usable red pepper off the top and bottom slices and dice that as well. To finely dice the pepper, start by cutting the lobes into equally-sized matchstick-shaped slices, then taking those matchsticks and chopping into small, uniform squares.

This hot spinach red pepper dip can be kept warm and served from a Crock-Pot, or it can be transferred to a serving dish or bread bowl. I prefer to buy a sourdough bread bowl from the bakery, hollow out the loaf by cutting a wide circle from the top, and then pull out chunks of bread from the inside. The removed top of the loaf can be cut or torn into small, bite-size pieces of bread and used along with the chunks of bread from the inside of the loaf for dipping. This spinach dip is also delicious served with salty tortilla chips or cut-up vegetables. This recipe is enough to fill one bread bowl with dip, or it can be doubled or tripled and placed in a larger Crock-Pot for bigger crowds.

Serve your bread bowl on a platter atop of leafy greens. If making ahead of time, garnish with diced red bell pepper right before serving. If desired, red pepper flakes can be reduced or eliminated for a milder flavor.

Hot Spinach Red Pepper Dip

Ingredients
1 c. water
1 c. diced red bell pepper
1/2 c. thawed frozen chopped spinach
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
2 Tbsp. milk
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or more, depending on how hot you like it)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 pinch freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. finely diced red bell pepper

Directions
Bring the cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat and add the one cup of diced red pepper and the chopped spinach. Bring the water back to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and simmer until the pepper is very soft, about 10 minutes. Drain the spinach and red pepper in a colander, pressing out as much liquid as possible.

Combine the cream cheese and milk in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until hot and softened. Stir in the cooked spinach and red peppers, Parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, and ground black pepper. Continue to stir until well combined and heated through.

Spoon hot dip into a serving plate or bread bowl and serve with the tablespoon of finely diced red bell pepper sprinkled on top for garnish. For an artsier touch, add leafy greens underneath the bread bowl.

Serves 8 (1/4 c. per serving)

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