Spinach and artichoke dip is a creamy concoction of spinach-filled excellence that is my personal favorite way to eat vegetables. It contains very simple ingredients: onions, butter, cream cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts, and Parmesan cheese. Though the ingredients are simple, they still provide a very diverse sensory experience.
Despite its profound taste, spinach and artichoke dip is not exactly the prettiest dish to look at, as there is not a lot of diversity in it. It is mostly an array of different shades of green, caused by the spinach and artichoke. Some of the lighter greens come from the mixture of the cream cheese. The identifiable components of the dish are the spinach and artichoke hearts, as they are the only things that stay in large enough pieces. Though there are onions in the dish, they are well sautéed, and therefore cannot be seen.
After being baked, there is a light brown layer of Parmesan cheese on top of the dish (that was added just before baking). When one closely examines the dish, they can see the moist leaves of spinach, the creaminess that the cream cheese provides, and the slices of artichoke heart.
As this dish is being prepared, the smell changes greatly. With each new ingredient that is added, the smell changes quite drastically. When the onions are condensed in the butter, the smell of the butter is very apparent. When the cream cheese is added, it smells very sweet. After the spinach, artichoke, and cheese are being added, the cheese is the most prominent smell. I believe that this smell is most likely enhanced by the cream cheese, as that is the next smell that is very apparent in the dish. There is also just the slight hint of the spinach thrown in there, but it does not seem that the artichoke can be smelled at all. I noticed that the uncooked artichoke hearts had a slightly sweet flavor. I suspect that in the final dish, this is overpowered by the sweet smell of the cream cheese.
I serve spinach and artichoke dip on tortilla chips. However, it can also be eaten by itself as a side dish rather than a dip. Since it is first sautéed in a frying pan, you can also eat it either baked or unbaked. Before it is baked, when eaten without tortilla chips, it has a mild yet differential flavor. Each flavor is very distinct. You can taste every flavor. First, you taste the spinach, then the artichoke, followed by the strong flavors of the cream cheese, butter, and Parmesan cheese. The flavor is constantly changing in your mouth until you are left with nothing but soft leaves of spinach. Eaten with the tortilla chips, the first flavor you taste is the salt. After this goes away, you get pretty much the same order of flavors. However, when it is almost gone, the moist tortilla chips add an interesting bready flavor. I would think that this would give it a more flat taste, but because of the texture of the chips, it actually makes it more dynamic. The unbaked dip has more of a “bite” to it than the unbaked.
After the dip is cooked, it actually has a drastically different flavor. The added Parmesan cheese does not actually make much of a difference. It just makes the dip more presentable. Once the dip is cooked, the taste is much more mild, as all of the flavors are blended and less distinct. There is a creamy flavor that is not identifiable as cream cheese. The flavor of the spinach and artichoke are however unchanged. When eaten baked on tortilla chips, the salt is a bit overpowering at first, but again results in the same final taste.
The texture of the dish also varies whether eaten alone or on tortilla chips. Either way, the textures vary as you move through the dish. It is creamy, due to the cream cheese and butter, yet crunchy, from the artichokes, and soft, because of the spinach. When the tortilla chips are included, there is not only the initial crunch that changes, but there is crunchiness throughout the dip during the entire chewing process.
Though one would not normally think of a dish making a sound, this one actually does. When it comes out of the oven, it is bubbling, and makes a peasant little sizzle. When it is eaten as a dip and bitten into, you can hear the crunch of the chip and the artichoke, and the creaminess of it can even be heard throughout the chewing process. It is really an amazing thing.
This dish goes back a long time in my family. However, it sort of dropped out off of the menu in my family for a while, so most of the memories I have tied to it are from junior high and high school. I really can not ever recall eating it when I was younger, though my mother tells me I was not exactly its biggest fan. When I eat the dish, I tend to think of winter. This is definitely a dish I enjoy eating warm on very cold nights.
I think of New Year’s Eve when I eat spinach and artichoke dip, because my mother has made it for the past several years to eat while we watch the ball drop. (It tastes fantastic with non-alcoholic champagne in case anyone was wondering.) I think of all the great memories of sitting down in the living room watching Dick Clark talking about New Year’s resolutions with a cheese ball, rum balls (for the adults of course), and a dish of spinach and artichoke dip sitting in front of us. It makes me think about when my brother was home and every year his New Year’s resolution was to be nice to everyone on every day that does not end in “y”. In a way, it brings back a simpler time for me before all of our lives got flipped upside down. For me, this dish means home.
When I close my eyes and think about it, I hear the clank of a metal spoon serving it onto a plate. I think about its creaminess and the overall comforting and warm feeling I get inside when I eat it. Though these feelings do not tend to linger, they are feelings that I experience with every bite I take. I do not really feel guilty at all when eating this dish, since is not an overly unhealthy dish. I feel very comforted and very warm, and allow myself to sink into all of the great memories of home life.
This dish is special to me. Surprisingly, though, it does not have a great deal of desirability. When it is made and available to me, I absolutely want to eat it. However, I get such a very unique and special experience out of it, that I do not feel that I really want it all the time. If I were to eat it on a regular basis, it would make it less and less special each and every time I ate it. It actually holds a very special place in my heart, and I would never want to spoil that.