Spinach Artichoke Bites

Friends, today you are getting a two-for-one recipe. More accurately, it’s one recipe that can be used to make two different appetizers, both equally delicious (and easy)!

I have always loved a good spinach artichoke dip. However, as with everything else in life, I am pretty particular about it – I want a lot of spinach and artichokes, and I want them chunky, but not TOO chunky. I want it to be creamy, but not gloppy and swimming in oil. I’d prefer that it have no mayo, or at least a very small amount (hot mayo kind of freaks me out). There should be a good amount of cheese, but the cheese shouldn’t overpower everything else. Also, the calories from the cheese and sour cream should be negated by the health benefits of the vegetables in the dip. (What? I didn’t say my list was REALISTIC.)

About 6 years ago, I found a recipe for spinach artichoke dip in a magazine (no clue at this point in time what magazine it was), and with some tweaking, it met all of my criteria, and has remained a party staple in our household ever since. Fast forward to last week, when I was brainstorming some appetizers I might make for my husband’s 30th birthday, and I saw that Crist had pinned a recipe for fried artichoke poppers. Which, clearly, got my wheels turning (and forced me to recognize that apparently I’m really into food in the shape of balls these days?)… and I decided to take my standby spinach artichoke dip recipe, decrease the amount of liquid in it a bit, roll it into balls, coat them with panko, and bake them! And the resulting dish was party ready (easy to eat with your hands), and damn tasty.

Spinach Artichoke Bites
Makes about 4 dozen

one 10oz box of frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained very well
one can of artichoke hearts, chopped into about 1/2″ pieces
scant 1/2 c whipped cream cheese (use a generous 1/2 c if you’re making this as a dip)
scant 1/2 c sour cream (low fat is fine) (use a generous 1/2 c if you’re making this as a dip)
4 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten well
1 c panko bread crumbs
olive oil

1.) Start by thawing your spinach. Throw the package into a large bowl, and heat it in your microwave for the recommended thawing time (usually about 6 minutes). Give the spinach a while to cool, and then squeeze every bit of water out of it that you can; when you’re done squeezing the water out, you should have a dry lump of spinach, about the size of a fist.

2.) Add the spinach, chopped artichoke hearts, whipped cream cheese, sour cream, mozzarella, salt and pepper to a bowl, and mix well until everything is evenly combined. If you’d prefer to just make this as a dip, just spread the mixture into a baking dish, and bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, until the edges are brown, and serve with pita chips, toasted baguette slices, or tortilla chips!

3.) Start rolling the mixture into 1″ balls – it will be a little wet and sticky, but as long as the balls hold their shape, you’re good. Place them on a plate as you go.

4.) Once all the mixture has been rolled into balls, cover the plate with plastic wrap and place them in the fridge for at least a couple hours to firm up (you can also do this as early as 2 days ahead).

5.) When you’re ready to bread and bake your spinach artichoke bites, preheat your oven to 375°, and set up your breading station: a shallow bowl with the flour, then a bowl with the beaten eggs, then a bowl with the panko, ending with a baking sheet, lined with foil, with a wire rack on it (the wire rack is not totally essential, but I found that it helped the bites get crispy all over, instead of just on top).

6.) Bread each ball by first coating it in flour, then egg, then panko (making sure it is completely covered after each step, but shaking off any excess). Place the balls about an inch apart on the wire rack.

7.) When all the balls are breaded, lightly mist them all with olive oil, to help them brown. Bake at 375° for about 25-30 minutes, until the panko is lightly golden brown.

I served mine with a good marinara sauce for dipping, and some toasted baguette slices, so we could smush the bites onto the bread if we wanted to. The insides were really cheesy and gooey and delicious, but the crispy panko crust holds everything together and provides great texture. These are a great twist on the traditional spinach artichoke dip, as they’d be super easy to grab and eat with one hand at a cocktail party.

I can make anything into a handheld snack,
Tina

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