Creamy Basil Pesto, Spinach, and Artichoke Dip

Last night was game night/potluck at my friend's house. As always, it was a good time and there was plenty of good things to eat. We sort of ended up calling it a "dairy party," because we had brie and boursin cheeses, my Creamy Basil Pesto, Spinach, and Artichoke dip, and a really delicious frozen cheesecake pie. And we had chili, which kind of wrecked the impromptu "dairy party" theme, but whatever.

I hadn't made this dip in a long time, but I remembered it hanging out in my repertoire, so I decided to dust it off and give it another try. It ended up going over really well...actually, we sort of demolished it. But that's the whole point, isn't it?

Spinach and artichoke dips are on almost every restaurant menu I see, but a lot of times they disappoint me. Often, it seems like they've taken alfredo sauce and mixed a little artichoke and spinach in, which makes for a really weak dip. My dip is really all about intense garlic and basil flavor plus big chunks of artichokes and spinach. This isn't a wimpy dip. I like to use low-fat cream cheese and sour cream in here so I feel borderline virtuous. Any basil pesto will do; I tend to use the one in the pasta sauce section of the grocery store, because I can generally depend on it being there, plus I oftentimes have it on hand since pasta pesto is my all-time favorite thing to eat. But I diverge...

Creamy Basil Pesto, Spinach, and Artichoke Dip

1 8 oz package low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cloves garlic, grated
black pepper, to taste
8 oz low-fat sour cream
6 tbsp prepared basil pesto
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
1 14 oz can water-packed artichoke hearts, drained
1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In medium bowl, blend cream cheese with a hand mixer until softened. Blend in garlic, pepper, sour cream, basil pesto and 1/8 cup of parmesan cheese.
3. Inspect the artichoke hearts for any rough-looking chokes, and remove them if there are any. Roughly chop the artichokes and blend them with the hand mixer into the cheese mixture.
4. Place the spinach in a clean kitchen towel. Fold the towel up around the spinach and squeeze the living daylights out of it to remove as much green liquid as possible. Roughly chop the spinach and fold it into the cheese mixture withe a rubber spatula (do fold the spinach in, don't use the hand mixer, otherwise it makes a huge, tangled, spinachy mess on the beaters).
5. Lightly grease a 1.5 qt casserole dish. Smooth the dip into the dish and evenly top with remaining 1/8 cup Parmesan cheese. Place in the oven and bake until the edges brown.
6. Switch the oven to broil, and move the casserole dish so that it is about 5 inches from the heating source. Leave the oven door open slightly and watch it brown. The time it takes is really dependent on your oven. I like to keep an eye on it the whole time, because it will burn quickly. This is a good time to check your voice mail or catch up on gossip with friend over the phone. Whatever you do, just don't walk away from this because the moment you do, it'll burn.

Servings per recipe: 12 (or in our case, 6 adults and a 2 year-old baby)
Per serving:
Calories: 137
Fat: 11.3 g
Saturated Fat: 7 g
Cholesterol: 31 mg
Sodium: 148 mg
Carbohydrates: 5.9 g
Fiber: 2.3 g
Sugar: 0.5 g
Protein: 4.7 g

Serve this with crackers, melba toast, bread, pita wedges, crostini, or tortilla chips...basically anything that need to be topped with something creamy and hot. This is a great make-ahead dish. Just pop the cooled dish into a 350 degrees F oven until it's warm, and voila!

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