This past weekend was Labor Day in the U.S., and while Italy, like the rest of Europe celebrates Labor Day on May 1st, I was thinking about the multiple barbecues and party food eaten this weekend. One of the ultimate party foods is the (Mexican) 7-layer dip with refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, olives, green onions and salsa.
The whole “dip” concept isn’t very popular here in Italy, but why not slice up some small pieces of french bread, toast them, and have them next to the “dip” to make instant crostini?
This is a dish that is going to be on my Italian aperitivo at home menu for the foreseeable future! It’s easy to make, and you can let people do the final assembly themselves so everything stays fresh.
The star of this dip is of course the basil pesto, which has a strong enough flavor that it’s going to take center stage and the other flavors should compliment it, which is why I’ve used mainly fresh, neutral Italian cheese and ingredients. Cannellini beans, a small white bean, makes a great light base for the dip and is a favorite for traditional crostini.
I find that the green and smaller, local olives, while delicious, have too much flavor and overpower the mix of these other ingredients, so I used a sweet, black olive. If you’d prefer to have a different flavor take center stage, swap out the basil pesto layer for chopped sundried tomatoes, capers or an olive tapenade.
If you’re really paying attention, below you’ll notice that I only really talk about 6 “layers.” And you thought this was a 7-layer dip! Well, it is. The last layer is one I call the “Wildcard” layer which I add on at the very end.
Since vegetables “sott’olio” (under oil) like are so delicious in Italy (try my eggplant sott’olio), they are the perfect addition to this recipe. I don’t add them directly to the mix since the oil can make things runny and throw off the balance. I suggest keeping your wildcard layer nearby for a final topping.
In this version, my wilcard layer is chopped Borettane onions sott’olio, and they are so sweet! Other wildcard layers I suggest: artichoke hearts, grilled eggplant, zucchini, or mushrooms.
7 layer dip, Italian style for Crostini
I recommend laying the bottom three layers as spread-out as possible so that you can chill the mixture before adding new layers.
2 large, 400g cans of cannellini beans, drained well
2 large tomatoes
1 can whole or sliced black olives
150g fresh basil pesto
Italian cheese: crescenza/stracchino, ricotta or shredded parmigiano reggiano
the “Wildcard” layer: eggplant, artichokes, onions, mushrooms
- Drain the cannellini beans very well. Pulse them a few times in a food processor with some garlic salt and a little olive oil (1 Tablespoon for every can you use), but you want to keep them pretty chunky and dry. Spread the beans on the bottom of your glass serving dish. Put it in the fridge to chill while preparing the other layers.
- Take two large tomatoes, and cut them in half, horizontally. Remove all the seeds, and chop/dice into small chunks. Let the tomatoes dry sufficiently, resting them on a paper towel if necessary.
- Prepare your pesto layer. I had bought some fresh basil this weekend so I made up a batch of homemade pesto to use. Gently spread the pesto on the cannellini bean layer and refrigerate.
- Roughly chop the olives and your Wildcard layer: here Borettane onions.
- Add your cheese layer. I used a crescenza which is a creamy, almost cream cheese-like consistency and it added a little tang to the mixture. If you’d prefer, use some ricotta or large shavings of parmigiano reggiano instead.
- Add the tomatoes, olives and pine nuts, and garnish with some fresh basil if desired. Chill the entire mixture for 30 minutes or more before serving. Serve with pieces of toasted french bread.
So, to review, from bottom-up that’s: cannellini beans, pesto, Italian cheese, tomatoes, olives and pine nuts, with the addition of the Wildcard layer afterwards!
What would your Wildcard ingredient be? How would you make this 7-layer dip Italian style?