Monday, April 30, 2012

Sun Dried Tomato Cream Cheese Dip/Spread

On my first trip to New York City a little over twenty years ago, I was introduced to the delicacy that is the bagel.  I could go on and on about how much I love this dense, bready treat, particularly toasted with a ‘schmeer’ as I heard one old man put it, by way of asking for cream cheese to be spread on the bagel. 

Enjoying a bagel on the streets of Manhattan, April, 1992.

Every time I went back to New York, I made a point to breakfast on a bagel to two, and always with that ‘schmeer.’  Well, lo and behold on one trip I came across a deli that offered various flavored cream cheeses instead of just plain.  One of those flavors was sun dried tomato.  I tried it.  I was in heaven!  This spread was so savory, tangy and delicious I almost had to sit down to eat the bagel.  I almost needed a cigarette after a I was done.  Yes, it was that good. 

When I got back to Texas, I knew I had to replicate this spread. 

I’d been using sun dried tomatoes in pastas and such for some time, and I love the way the drying concentrates the tomato flavor.  I pureed some up and blended them with cream cheese and gave it a try.  It was good, but not anywhere close to the flavor from the NY deli.  So I made a few more batches, adding a couple of herbs and spices and such, and eventually I came up with a winner.

Sun Dried Tomato Cream Cheese Dip/Spread

1 8oz package of Philadelphia cream cheese
2 oz (by weight) sun dried tomatoes
2 oz pitted Kalamata olives, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil (or one tablespoon fresh)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Pinch of salt

You can buy sun dried tomatoes a lot of ways, including the variety in a jar of olive oil.  I skip these and just buy the dry kind in a package, which I then rehydrate in some boiling water.  For this recipe, you can use either, but the dry kind are cheaper and lower in calories.  If you use the dry sort, add them to boiling water for five minutes or so, 

then drain and slice into thin strips. 

Add these to a small pan or saucier with the olive oil and sauté.  Immediately add the Kalamata olives (and note, they must be KALAMATA olives, don’t go cheap here and substitute plain old black or green olives, for the flavor won’t be the same.  You might get away with some Nicoise olives, but trust me, the only olives that give you that real NY deli flavor will be good old, purple Kalamata). 

Next, add the basil, salt and crushed garlic and sauté all, stirring constantly to keep the tomatoes from burning, until you smell the roasted garlic aroma wafting up from the pan.  Remove from heat and set aside. 

Add the sun dried tomato mixture to your food processor and process until a smooth paste forms, with few lumps of tomato or olive remaining.  

This will probably take about a minute.  Next cube up your cream cheese 

and add this to the food processor.  Blend until smooth.

Depending on your tomatoes, sometimes the mixture comes out a beige color, sort of the color of Thousand Island dressing, which I don’t think is quite all that appetizing, so I add a few drops of red food coloring to brighten. 

You can serve the mixture at room temperature as a dip, and it will yield nicely to crackers such as Wheat Thins.  Or, you can chill the mixture and use it as a spread on crackers, sandwiches, or of course, the ubiquitous bagel.

Until next time,