Earlier this month when it was my turn to host book club, I was at a loss for what to serve. We always have a generous offering of seasonal appetizers and sweets, but this year in New England spring has brought cold temperatures and even snow to us. Finally, I came up with a menu: a hearty and savory Gorgonzola cheesecake garnished with grapes, apple slices, and crisp crackers, plus a creamy fresh crab dip with orange-scented toasts, and caramel almond squares accompanied by a bowl of berries and whipped cream.
The crab dip, my nod to warmer weather, was a big hit with my fellow readers. Its creaminess comes from cream cheese whipped with Parmesan, and then seasoned with spring accents of tarragon and chives, plus a hefty citrus note of orange. Served atop toasted baguette slices brushed with melted butter flavored with orange zest and cayenne, this dip easily serves ten. It also improves in flavor when prepared a day ahead. I even added some asparagus to the platter to emphasize the seasonal theme.
Think of including this dip if you’re planning celebrations for graduations or wedding showers, common events at this time of year. Or, just make it the opener for your first outdoor meal when the weather turns warm!
PS. We read Lilac Girls, a terrific debut novel by Margaret Hall Kelly, based on the true story of young Polish women who were the victims of medical experiments in Ravensbruck concentration camp. The story is told from the perspectives of three women—an American who is helping in the war effort, a Polish prisoner in the camp, and a German doctor there.
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Creamy Crab Dip Scented with Fresh Herbs and Orange–Scented Toasts
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 teaspoons chopped tarragon, plus 1/2 teaspoon extra for garnish
4 teaspoons chopped chives plus 1 /2 teaspoon extra for garnish
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest plus a little extra if needed
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt plus extra if needed
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
6 ounces best quality fresh or packaged crab meat (See market note.)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
24 baguette slices cut 1/4 inch thick
1. For dip, in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in the Parmesan cheese. Then beat in tarragon, chives, orange and lemon zests, sour cream, Tabasco, and salt until well blended. Remove from mixer and stir in the orange juice and crab meat with a spoon. Taste and season with more salt and/or orange zest if desired.
2. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate. (Dip can be prepared 1 day ahead; bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving.).
3. For toasts, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix together butter, orange zest, salt, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and bake 5 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven and turn bread slices. Brush tops of slices lightly with orange butter. Return to oven and bake until slices are just crisp on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes more.
4. Remove and cool. 5 minutes. (Toasts can be prepared 1 hour ahead. Leave at room temperature, uncovered.).
5 Garnish top of dip with extra chopped tarragon and chives. Serve with toasts. Serves 10.
Market note: Finding good crab meat might be the most challenging part of this recipe. I bought an 8-oz plastic container of pasteurized back fin crab, which was located in the refrigerated seafood section of my local Whole Foods. Little River Brand, came from Virginia and was sweet and delicious. Ask the fish monger at your local seafood shop or supermarket for suggestions.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2018