Time to take a dip

With summer here, Henri is preparing potluck appetizers

Photo Illustration by Carey Wilson

As Henri’s third summer in Chico approaches, he’s thrilled at the thought of lazy evenings downtown—movies at the Pageant, double scoops of Chico mint on waffle cones at Shubert’s and cooling off after midnight at One-Mile.

Chico summers are also perfect for dinner parties. Old friends, co-workers, and neighbors get together in back yards—often poolside—and talk and laugh into the wee hours. Wine and music flow freely, and friendships are rekindled as old stories are told and plans made to stay in closer touch. Dinner parties: reminders of our connections to one another, the degree to which, despite occasional political or other differences, we all share the same needs—for love and laughter and simple human contact.

Or so Henri has heard. He hasn’t actually, well, been to a dinner party here in Chico, at least one with other people. Which is fine. Henri understands full well that potential hosts might be intimidated by his culinary savoir-faire, and he realizes, too, that groups of people tend to get insular, making it difficult to invite a newcomer in, especially when the newcomer is single (note: Miss Marilyn is very well behaved in social situations … most of the time).

And, really, Henri doesn’t mind dining alone. On the other hand, if he ever is invited to a dinner party, he will be well prepared. First of all, he adheres absolutely to Dinner Party Rule of Thumb No. 1: Never arrive empty handed, even if your host has said not to bring anything—and you should always inquire. A loaf of fresh-baked bread, a bouquet of flowers, a plant—and always a bottle of wine.

Second, with Henri’s culinary and oenological expertise and vast knowledge of world politics, film, and literature, he would probably be the most charming guest there—he also prides himself on his modesty. And if it’s a potluck, he would be thrilled to provide the appetizers, perhaps a dip—perfect for summer evenings—from his immense storehouse of possibilities. Merci beaucoups to mon ami Jean-Philipe for the following.

These dips can be served with pita chips, tortilla chips, crackers, or veggies. The wild-mushroom-and-artichoke dip is best with sliced baguettes.

Romesco (Roasted Red Pepper, Almond and Garlic Dip)
1/2 cup toasted almonds
3 roasted red bell peppers (approx. 1 cup)
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
1 large garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Finely chop almonds in food processor. Add peppers, vinegar and garlic and puree. With machine running, drizzle oil through feed tube. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl. (May be made up to one day ahead. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Avocado and Yogurt Dip with Jalapeño and Cilantro
16 ounces plain yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
2 large ripe avocados, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 jalapeños, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced

Drain yogurt overnight in a strainer lined with cheesecloth over a medium bowl. Transfer yogurt to processor. Add cumin, avocado, cilantro, garlic and jalapeño. Puree. Garnish with cilantro.

Wild Mushroom and Artichoke Dip
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups shiitake mushroom caps, chopped (or chanterelles or porcini)
1 cup portabella mushroom caps, chopped
3 tablespoons vermouth (or dry white wine)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (optional)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 teaspoons pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
16 ounces fat-free cream cheese
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and vermouth and sauté until tender. Combine mushrooms and remaining ingredients in a large bowl, stirring until well blended. Spoon mixture into a two-quart casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Let cool.

Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup plain yogurt
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 12-ounce bottle roasted red bell peppers, drained

Combine all ingredients in food processor and puree. (May be made up to one day ahead.)