Sunday, May 29, 2011


My, oh, my, what a wonderful day.  We didn't have plenty of sunshine, in fact it rained buckets, but dinner at our friends Robin and Mark's house is always a treat.

Our contribution to their fine meal was a series of dips with crudite and homemade crackers.  This month's Bon Appetit magazine includes a "Summer Cooking Manifesto" that declares crudite and dip a standard best left in the last century.  I see no good reason for such banishment and neither does chef and cookbook author Maria Helm Sinskey, for in our recent RSV Glutton and Gourmand wine club shipment she declared the omnipotent dip is back.  Maria Sinskey is the culinary director of a top Napa vineyard and was named one of the "Best New Chefs in America" by Food & Wine magazine, whereas the Bon Appetit issue in question . . . has  a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow on the front.  Enough said: Maria Sinskey, one; Bon Appetit, zero.

Homemade Crackers and Crudite with a Trio of Dips
So back to our lovely dips, which included a Herbed Cucumber Dip, a Smoky Lemony Chickpea Dip, and a Carmelized Two Onion Dip with Nigella Seeds.  The crackers were RSV Farmstead Cheddar & Nigella Seed Crackers, which we modified a bit by sprinkling them with rosemary sea salt.  Maria Sinskey's recipes for each are below, and are also currently on the Robert Sinskey Vineyards website.  Be warned, once you try her version of onion dip, you will never again be able to mix a packet of dried onion soup mix into sour cream and call it good.  You'll know you can do better.

With these dip and cracker recipes the vineyard sent a half bottle and a magnum of their Pinot Blanc, reasoning that Pinot Blanc is a great way to start a meal or a phenomenal wine for a party.  In the words of vineyard owner Robert Sinskey, "instead of braggadocio, Pinot Blanc is happy to be clean and pure, elegant and balanced . . . and one of the most flexible culinary wines money can buy."  It was outstanding with the dips, and it's always fun to show up at someone's house with a huge bottle of wine!

Herbed Cucumber Dip
Yields about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup grated cucumber, peeled and seeded before grating
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 small clove garlic, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the cucumbers in a medium bowl and add 1 teaspoon salt.  Toss well and place in a strainer to drain over a bowl for about 20 minutes.  Squeeze out excess water into the bowl, discard the liquid, then place the cucmber shreds in the bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the black pepper, and mix well.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving, ideally overnight.

Smoky Lemony Chickpea Dip
Yields about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups cooked chickpeas (high quality canned chickpeas work fine)
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon smoked hot pimenton
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 medium garlic clove, pressed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients except olive oil in food processor and process until smooth.  With the motor running, add the olive oil slowly to emulsify.

Place in bowl and season to taste with salt.  Let sit for 1 hour at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.  Serve at room temperature.

Carmelized Two Onion Dip with Nigella Seeds
Yields about 2 cups

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup finely diced sweet yellow onion
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 green onions, trimmed, sliced thinly
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 teaspoon Nigella seed, toasted (see Sources page)
1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Heat a medium saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil and then the onions.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until the onions are sweet, carmelized and just barely moist.  Turn out onto plate to cool.

In a medium bowl, mix the cooled onions with the remaining ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving, ideally overnight.

RSV Farmstead Cheddar & Nigella Seed Crackers
Yields . . .  a lot

1 cup warm water
1 Tablespoon yeast
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup finely grated cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon Nigella seed (see Sources page)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de Sel or kosher salt for sprinkling (we used rosemary sea salt)
Semolina or corn meal for dusting sheet pans

Place the warm water in a small bowl, sprinkle yeast evenly over the top and allow to sit for about 5 minutes to allow the yeast to "bloom."  Whisk the yeast into the water until smooth.

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast.  Using the mixer's dough hook, mix until the dough is roughly combined.  Add the cheese, Nigella seed and soft butter.  Knead the dough until very smooth, about 5 minutes.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.  Punch the dough down and divide into 3 pieces.  Cover the pieces of dough with plastic wrap to keep moist.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare sheet pans by sprinkling very lightly with semolina or corn meal.

Remove one section of dough at a time and roll thinly with a rolling pin on an unfloured surface.  Lift the dough and turn it several times, continuing to roll the dough until very thin.  You can also use a pasta machine to roll the dough thinly, but I found the dough to be very easy to work with using just a rolling pin.

Brush the dough lightly with olive oil and sprinkle very lightly with salt.  Prick the dough well with a fork, then using a sharp knife cut the dough into desired cracker shapes.  Transfer to prepared sheet pans and let sit for 10 minutes before baking.

Bake until done (about 15-20 minutes), turning once until the crackers are bubbled, golden and crisp.  Cool and store extras in an airtight container.  Maria Sinskey says they'll store for up to two weeks; I don't think they'll last that long.  They're addictive.

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