Call them what you like; dips, spreads, pastes, purées, tapenade, pesto – they all serve the same purpose and then some! Served simply or resourcefully, unctuous pastes are arguably the most versatile and intoxicating of all condiments.
For honesty itself, dips can be used as their name implies: to ‘dip’ into. Try dipping fresh or roasted vegetables, dried fruits, breadsticks, fresh crusty bread, exotic crackers, char-grilled bruschetta or oven-dried crostini. Then of course, spreading is the other obvious serving manner for these fragrant concoctions.
What I like most about this type of condiment is that they are wonderfully multi-purpose – their uses can be extended way beyond mere dipping and spreading. A tablespoonful or two can be incorporated into everything from home-made pastry, breads and pasta, to sauces, marinades and vinaigrettes to good effect.
Dollop a spoonful of your favourite dip onto a simply cooked piece of fish, chicken or steak and change your main course repertoire forever. Experiment by topping summer salads or noodles, or winter soups or stews with a vividly flavoured pesto. Another idea is to thin down salsa verde with olive oil to form a dressing for salad or sauce to toss through pasta.
All kinds of produce can be pulverised into a dip or paste. Some of my absolute favourites include bright vegetable purees such as carrot, beetroot or spinach. Chickpeas or white beans processed with lots of garlic and good olive oil form appealingly smooth and creamy spreads. Dairy-based dips are also divine; a blend of feta cheese, sour cream and fresh herbs is indescribably luscious.
To cope with any catering emergency, I recommend developing the habit of always having these preparations in the fridge. Intriguing with all that is ground into them and brimming with intense flavour, a good dip added in the right way will lift everyday foods to a higher culinary level.
ROAST RED PEPPER DIP
3 red peppers (sweet bell peppers), halved with seeds removed
Olive oil, to drizzle
1 red chilli (chili), seeds removed, flesh coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup cashew nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Preheat oven to 200°C. Place red pepper halves into a roasting pan and drizzle with a little oil. Roast for 20 minutes or until skins blister.
2 Remove from oven; place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to cool. This makes the peppers sweat and their skins will peel off easily. Remove and discard skins.
3 Place peppers and any pan juices, chilli and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and whiz to combine.
4 Add cashew nuts and olive oil and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This dip will last for up to a week, if stored in the fridge. Serve as part of an antipasto platter, or with fresh vegetable sticks, bread or crackers, to dip.
Makes 2 cups