This is a recipe that almost wasn’t. It came about last Sunday night while I was preparing beer bread and chai truffles for a food swap the next day. I was really nervous about going to the swap, in part because I wasn’t sure whether my dishes would be fancy enough for all the foodies in attendance. This is a common fear for me. I call it Potluck Anxiety, and it tends to sneak up any time I take a large batch of treats to a social gathering. Potluck Anxiety is usually really annoying but in this instance I’m glad I had it, because otherwise I might have never made this spicy arugula spread.
Thanks to Potluck Anxiety, I was doubtful that my beer bread would be okay as a standalone dish at the swap. I thought, why not make an herb butter to gussy it up? I wasn’t working from a recipe, just from the vague idea that pesto and butter together would make a good herb butter. So off I went. For the pesto, I improvised using whatever I could find in the fridge: some arugula, green onions, pecans, garlic, salt, and olive oil.
When I tasted the pesto I enjoyed it so much that I almost kept the whole batch for myself. Luckily, Potluck Anxiety told me that bread alone wouldn’t cut it, and I pushed forward in the quest for herb butter. To my cup of arugula pesto, I added 4 tablespoons of salted butter.
No bueno. The butter did nothing but turn the pesto into an oily mess! I could have resolved this by adding more butter, but I had used the last of it for the beer bread. What to do?
As a measure of desperation, I threw some cream cheese into the processor with the buttered pesto. The flavor of the spread was definitely improved by the cream cheese, but I thought it was still too strong to pair with my mellow beer bread. Not wanting to be wasteful, I put the finished cream cheese-butter-pesto mixture into a crock in the fridge and forgot about it.
The night of the swap, I was a mess. I had loaded my car and pulled out of the driveway by the time I remembered the arugula spread in the fridge. In the throes of Potluck Anxiety, I turned around to get it mostly because the little orange crock was so cute. Boy, am I glad that I did! While the spread was sitting in the fridge overnight it mellowed into a lovely, spreadable, spicy dip. Perfect for pairing with crackers or whole wheat beer bread. By experimenting with the leftovers, my husband Rami discovered that this spread makes a great pasta sauce if you warm it up in the microwave.
This story has two happy endings. First, I ended up with a new potluck recipe that is easy to put together and a real crowd pleaser. Second, I met a wonderful group of friends at the food swap. There were all sorts of cooks at the party: some were fancy, some were not so fancy, and of them all were kind and accepting. I suspect I will probably have another case of Potluck Anxiety before the next time I see them; my fingers are crossed that I’ll get another winning recipe out of the deal!
Spicy Arugula Spread (makes about 1.5 cups)
4 cups arugula
4 peeled garlic cloves
1 bunch green onions, root tips and limp green tips removed
1/2 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons salted butter
4 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon salt
Place arugula, garlic and green onions in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse until veggies have broken down into very small pieces. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until completely combined. Mixture will be very soft from the heat of the food processor; store in an airtight container overnight to firm up the spread and allow the flavors to mellow. Enjoy in place of butter on breads, as a dip for crackers, or warm with pasta.
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