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Tailgate recipe: Healthy tomato basil cheese spread

The Tomato Basil Cheese Spread starts with a base of low-fat ricotta cheese and adds tang with goat cheese. It also uses two types of tomatoes: fresh and sun-dried.
The Tomato Basil Cheese Spread starts with a base of low-fat ricotta cheese and adds tang with goat cheese. It also uses two types of tomatoes: fresh and sun-dried. tljungblad@kcstar.com

Editor’s note: This “Eating for Life” recipe was first published in November 2007.

Dips are rarely skinny, so chances are you’ve sworn off the high-calorie party food.

But you don’t have to banish dips altogether. Sure, typical dairy-based dips tend to be high in saturated fat, but choosing lower-fat dairy products can let the good times roll.

The Star’s festive Tomato Basil Cheese Spread starts with a base of low-fat ricotta cheese. Smoother than cottage cheese, ricotta is made by “recooking” the whey, which is the watery liquid that separates from the curds in cheese-making.

Traditionally used to make lasagna, ravioli or manicotti, ricotta has been slimming down in recent years.

A 1-ounce serving of fat-free ricotta has 27 calories, 5 grams of protein, 1 gram carbohydrates and 27 milligrams of sodium, according to drgourmet.com, a site featuring Timothy Harlan, an internist and chef.

Readily available in the dairy case of supermarkets, ricotta is also one of the richest sources of dietary calcium. It also is high in protein, phosphorous and selenium.

When combined with goat cheese, the mild-tasting ricotta takes on a delicious tang.

Doubling up again, the cheeses are garnished with two types of tomato. Fresh tomatoes provide lycopene, an antioxidant that may prevent prostate cancer, heart disease and skin ailments, but intensely flavored bits of sun-dried tomato concentrate the benefits of lycopene. What’s more, lycopene is more available to the body when served in combination with a tablespoon of olive oil.

Fresh basil and toasted pine nuts add interest and a fresh Italian flavor, so go ahead and dig in. Just be sure not to double dip.

Helpful hints

Shopping tip: For a taste twist, try smoke-flavored sun-dried tomatoes.

Serving tip: We tested this dip by spreading it in a small, shallow au gratin-type dish. Instead of chips, serve with a whole-wheat cracker.

Tomato basil cheese spread

Makes 8 to 10 appetizer servings

1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese

3 ounces fresh goat cheese

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, dry packed

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 to 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted

Basil leaves for garnish (optional)

30 reduced fat whole- wheat crackers

Place ricotta and goat cheese in bowl; beat with a mixer until smooth. Spread cheese mixture evenly in a small shallow dish; cover and refrigerate.

Using kitchen shears, cut dried tomato into small pieces. Cover with boiling water and allow to stand 20 to 30 minutes or until softened. Drain well on paper towels.

Combine sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, Roma tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss gently to blend, then spoon evenly over cheese. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Garnish with fresh basil. Serve with crackers.

Per serving, based on 8: 193 calories (41 percent from fat), 9 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 24 milligrams cholesterol, 17 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 602 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

Recipe developed for The Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss.

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