Cut the fatty dip to create a healthier appetizer

Associated Press photo by Matthew Mead --  This Hot and Spicy Artichoke Spinach Dip is a healthier version than the usual high-fat variety. Show caption
Associated Press photo by Matthew Mead -- This Hot and Spicy Artichoke Spinach Dip is a healthier version than the usual high-fat variety.

Most dips are notoriously heavy with fat and calories. That’s why we love them. Still, I figured there must be ways to lighten them up while retaining their luxurious texture.

I started by bulking up on the vegetables — in this case, artichokes and spinach. Artichokes contain many nutrients and a ton of fiber. I chose canned artichokes because they are packed in citric acid, which gives them a lemony kick. But if you prefer frozen, you’ll need 2 cups thawed.

To conjure up that rich, cheesy texture I started with Neufchatel, a French cream cheese that has one-third less fat than the full-fat version, but more flavor than the no-fat version. Then I added low-fat sour cream for tang and a tiny bit of low-fat mayonnaise for the oil. You can substitute extra-virgin olive oil, if you’d like.

Finally, there’s some Parmigiano-Reggiano, which bristles with flavor.

For some heat, I used pepper flakes and Peppadews, which are hot and sweet pickled red peppers from South Africa. If you don’t find them, you can use pickled cherry peppers or even roasted red peppers.

The finishing touches? Caramelized onions and garlic. Take the time to cook the onions slowly, which brings out their natural sugar.

Serve with a healthy cracker or make your own pita crisps. To do so, just separate some two-layered pita bread pockets into single layers, spray them lightly with oil, cut them into triangles, and bake them at 400 F for 10-12 minutes, or until crisp.

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” and has written three cookbooks, including “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners.”

Hot and Spicy Artichoke Spinach Dip

Makes about 4 cups. Recipe is by Sara Moulton.

1 tbl. olive oil

11/2 cups finely chopped yellow onion

1 tbl. minced garlic

13.75-oz. can artichoke hearts, drained

10-oz. box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

4 oz. Neufchatel (low-fat cream cheese)

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

2 tbls. low-fat mayonnaise

1 oz. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 3/4 cup grated using a wand-style grater)

1/2 cup medium chopped mild Peppadew peppers (about 2 oz.), or medium chopped roasted red peppers

1/2 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

Kosher salt

Crackers or low-fat pita crisps, to serve

1. Heat oven to 375 F. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.

2. In a medium skillet over medium-low, heat the oil. Add onion and saute, covered, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Uncover the pan and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown, about another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

3. In a food processor, pulse the artichokes until medium chopped, then transfer them to the skillet.

4. In the food processor, combine the spinach, cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, then process until mixed. Add the mixture to the skillet, along with the peppers and pepper flakes. Stir well, then season with salt.

5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake on the oven’s middle shelf for 15-20 minutes, or until it is bubbling at the edges. Serve immediately with crackers or low-fat pita crisps.

Nutrition information per 1/2 cup: 150 calories (80 calories from fat = 53 percent of total calories); 9 grams fat (4 grams saturated; 0 grams trans fats); 20 milligrams cholesterol; 13 grams carbohydrate (4 grams fiber; 2 grams sugar); 7 grams protein; 540 milligrams sodium.