Want to party like it’s 1999 (or probably more 1995-ish)? Break out the chokers and the hemp bracelets, the gauzy baby doll dresses paired with your toughest Doc Martins or your widest raver jeans, grab yourself a Zima and let’s dive face first into this Spinach & Artichoke Dip. Remember the ’90’s are back – so not only is it wonderfully nostalgic to revisit the trends of your (or at least my) youth, but it’s also considered fashionable. A simpler time when our biggest environmental worries were the ozone layer… and massive oil spills… and the destruction of the rainforest…
Recently I re-read the book Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. The author is a Shaker Heights High graduate, who has also set the book in Shaker Heights, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland), during the mid-to-late nineties; drawing upon her own experiences, which were also large-in-part my own.
The setting of the book is wonderfully familiar – mentioning the grocery store Heinens, at which my mother has shopped for the better part of 40 years, the Chinese restaurant Pearl of the Orient (oh, that shrimp and snow peas dish I always ordered!) and Draegers Ice Cream Shop (two words: hot fudge…). The first time I read it, it was like going back home; both in time and space. The second time, even more nuanced memories bubbled to the surface.
Some of the best memories from those years were simply a result of just trying fill time and find a place we were allowed to linger. One thing most teenagers have in common is that there aren’t many public places to hang out. Too young for bars, too old for play dates; where to go? On Cleveland’s East side in the 90’s: Chuck’s Diner, Dennys, Arabica Coffee House, or TGI Fridays were the standard options, provided you had some money to spend.
We squished ourselves around the largest booth possible, because somehow there were never fewer than a million of us traveling together in a pack. We took care to order as little as possible without risking getting kicked out, so as not to waste our hard-earned babysitting or life guarding money. We stayed around those bare tables but full booths until curfews were just a scant few minutes away. When it came to actually ordering something, Spinach and Artichoke Dip was always top of the list.
This dip served as witness for heated debates about mix-tape playlist orders, teenage dating advice, professed undying love for Ani Diranco, the Indigo Girls, Dave Matthews Band (later revoked in college years) this new band called Phish (like ‘fish’ but with a ‘ph’ because they’re so cool!) and discussions of where in the world we would all run to when we turned 18 and could leave.
I never knew how truly dated this dip was until I made it for a recent book club gathering with my mostly British friends. Turns out this dip is about as Ohio circa 1997 as you could possible get. It gave me that much more pleasure to share it.
This time round I’ve added a signature New Mexican twist, which basically means adding green chilies. Nirvana (90’s pun intended), reached.
Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Green Chilies
2 cups/300g chopped artichoke hearts (I used frozen ones)
150g/3 packed cups fresh baby spinach leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons salted butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups/500ml whole milk + extra if desired
5oz/150g cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup/ 75g feta
1/2 cup/75g grated parmesan
1 tin drained and rinsed chopped green chilies (Hatch preferred if you can find them)
1-2 handfuls shredded Monterey jack cheese
Slice your artichokes in half horizontally, then dice into small pieces. Peel and mince or finely dice your garlic cloves. Grate your cheese. Wash and pat your spinach leaves dry. Now you’re ready!
Begin by melting 1 tablespoon salted butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Next add your minced or diced garlic and cook whilst moving continuously so as not to burn, for around 30 seconds or so until fragrant and slightly golden. Add in your diced artichokes, followed by your spinach leaves and continue to stir and mix together. Your spinach leaves will wilt and reduce in size, which is exactly what you want. Keep cooking for 3-4 minutes then tip into a bowl and reserve for later.
Bring the same pan back to a medium heat and add in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Once melted add 3 tablespoons flour and stir to combine and cook through, approx 1-2 minutes. Next, pour in your cold milk, using a whisk to break up and lumps until smooth and just beginning to thicken. Add in the cream cheese and feta, lower heat and stir to combine until smooth. Next turn the heat all the way off and add in your parmesan and stir to combine once again. Add back in the artichokes and spinach along with the chopped green chilies and stir to combine.
Tip your mixture into a grill safe/oven safe baking dish or serving bowl. Set your oven to grill or broil if available at 200C/400F. Generously scatter grated Monterey jack cheese over the top of your dish then place under the grill for 5-10 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Serve immediately with tortilla chips, crackers or go full in and tip it into a hollowed out bread bowl and really lean into your best 90’s self.