Back on the hottest weekend this summer, that week in July when the wind stopped and the temperature never once dropped below 100°F during daylight hours, Alex and I journeyed even further south than our overheated New York to Philadelphia, to meet his parents and brother for a concert.
On Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, we walked around the city like regular sightseers, not sightseers who were drenched in sweat, ridiculously thirsty, and even a little dizzy from the heat. I hadn’t even been to Philly since my aunt and uncle got married there in 1990, but I really liked the city. It was a good place to walk around, to eat; we went to the Eastern State Penitentiary, the old city, the Mutter Museum and ate our way through Reading Terminal Market and the Italian Market too. On Saturday night, after the rest of Alex’s family had left and we’d been revitalized by the a/c of our hotel room, we ventured out to dinner just the two of us. On SKC writer Brette’s recommendation, we popped into Tria, a casual wine and beer bar, for dinner. Not only was Alex sick with a cold and my throat tickling with anticipation of the cold I’d come down with the next day, but Alex was also hangry (see page 130 of the book). So, while we were waiting for a table, we decided to order one of the small plates to tide us over. And what sounded safest for my dairy-free boyfriend? The warm white bean dip. What could be bad?
The bean dip arrived in minutes. A small ramekin, it was bubbling and brown on top with a layer of…melted cheese. On bean dip?
No worries, I thought, scraping off the top and selflessly moving it to my plate. But when I dug deeper I saw that the cheesy gooeyness was a feature of the entire dish, not just the top. Poor Alex.
After taking one extraordinarily delicious bite I realized it was fantastic. Lucky me.
While Alex enjoyed his stout and nibbled at the paprika-dusted crostini served with the dip, I dug in. It was amazing: salty and beany and so much lighter than eating a bona fide cheese dip, but it was also seriously cheesy, through and through. White beans and cheese seemed a match made in heaven that somehow no one that thought of yet. For weeks after, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Here I’ve recreated Tria’s cheesy bean dip down to the paprika crostini for dipping (well, as best I could in my small kitchen!). Tria has a pretty fancy cheese selection, and I don’t know exactly what they melted into the dip there. I’ve used a straightforward white cheddar, but experiment with any of your favorite melting cheeses as you play around with this dish.
From my kitchen, pining for Philly’s cheese dips (not steaks), to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER LIFE COOK
Cheesy White Bean Dip with Smoked Paprika Toasts
Serves 6 as a first course
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
7 sage leaves
1 can white beans
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 cup grated cheddar
Smoked Paprika Toasts (Recipe Follows)
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic slices and cook until they are soft but only just barely gold, about 10 minutes. Add 5 of the sage leaves just before the garlic is ready, and cook until they are crisp.
Pour in the can of white beans with about 1 tablespoon of the liquid from the can. It may splatter a bit so be careful! Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid boils off and the beans have thickened, 5-10 minutes. Taste for salt (canned beans can be salty so do this before adding any), and add pinches as needed. Sprinkle in cayenne pepper to taste. Remove the beans from the heat and let cool slightly.
Transfer the beans to a mini prep or a blender, add the vinegar, and process until smooth. Pour about a 2-cup ramekin or other oven-safe pan. Sprinkle 3/4 of the cheese on top and carefully fold it into the bean dip. Top with the remaining cheese. You can make the bean dip up to here in advance. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 days.
Place the ramekin on a baking sheet or piece of foil and bake for 20-25 minutes, slightly longer if coming out of the fridge. until the cheese is bubby and golden. Remove, let cool for 2-3 minutes, then serve with Smoked Paprika toasts. Careful! The dip is hot!
Smoked Paprika Toasts
1/2 loaf baguette or italian bread, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
Brush each slice with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with smoked paprika and salt.
Cook for 8 minutes at 400°F, until crispy and just barely golden.