Football is serious business around here. And so is football food.
The college season started last weekend, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open the regular season Sunday with the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. High school and youth football leagues are already under way.
For those of us on the sidelines — or rather, in the parking lot or on the couch — this means it's time to dust off tailgate party and potluck recipes. Or perhaps consider some new ones for dips that can hang around for a while without refrigeration.
Dip and chips are standard football party fare, but dips made with mayonnaise or cream cheese can get unappetizing and downright dangerous if they sit out too long. You can nestle the bowl in a bigger bowl of ice to get more life out of the dip, but that's another thing to remember to bring to the stadium.
Salsa and bean dips, plus guacamole within reason, can last for half a game with no problem. Today's recipes are so delicious they'll be gobbled up well before the network pundits start in on who's done what wrong in the first half.
These dips all pair well with tortilla chips, and there are certainly many flavors and shapes of those these days, but they can also be scooped by pita and bagel chips, plus sturdy vegetables. (See inside for dipper ideas.) It's a good idea to offer both chips and veggies to satisfy a variety of dietary inclinations.
Salsas and bean dips can be made in advance, which allows flavors to meld completely. They are better the next day, when the heat of the jalapenos and the power of the garlic have been given time to bloom. This also lets you adjust seasonings and other elements. The Roasted Cherry Tomato Citrus Salsa tested for this story became quite thick overnight, so I added juice from a can of diced tomatoes to loosen it. (I stirred the rest of the can into a bean soup I was making.) The next time I make it, I'll back off on the orange zest to lessen the citrus flavor.
That's the beauty of salsas and dips in general. They are endlessly tinkerable. A little more heat, a little less sweet, all to jibe with your likes and dislikes. Today's Black Bean and Corn Salsa is called Heather's Cilantro, Black Bean and Corn Salsa on allrecipes.com. It has nearly 200 reviews, mostly glowing, but nearly all of the reviewers shared changes. It's the kind of recipe that you'll need to make once and then start messing with.
My favorite of today's recipes is the Watermelon Salsa, a refreshing accompaniment to the Florida football season, which is more about shorts and tank tops than jackets and gloves. The trick with this recipe is to let the diced watermelon drain in a fine-mesh sieve for at least 30 minutes before mixing all the ingredients. The recipe calls for a bit of salt, and if you sprinkle coarse salt on the melon while it drains, it will release even more liquid. (Watermelon is more than 90 percent water.) No need to salt again.
The recipe doesn't call for it, but you could add feta cheese crumbles just before serving and offer the salsa with toasted pita chips. It would also be a nice accompaniment for grilled seafood, especially shrimp.
I also recommend the Creamy White Bean Dip, which will not be white because of the basil that's processed with the beans. In our newsroom taste test, this dip got high marks, though many thought it was guacamole at first glance. Swirl a good-quality extra virgin olive oil on the top of the dip for presentation's and flavor's sake. Very good with bagel chips.
Guacamole is a wonderful addition to a football party menu, but making it depends on two important things: the price of flavorful Hass avocados and their ripeness. When Hass are 10 for $10, buy them. You may want to pass when they are 2 for $3 because you'll need about six to make enough for a party.
If they are rock hard, place on the counter and they'll ripen in about three days. Refrigeration slows the ripening process; don't do it. They are ready when they give to slight pressure.
Avocado flesh begins to brown as soon as it's exposed to air. To avoid this, mix with lime or lemon juice. The citric acid slows the process. Guacamole is best made a few hours before serving. It can start to look a bit wan after a couple of hours on the party table, but if it's good, it likely won't last that long. Keep an eye on it.
I stuffed my simple guacamole with lump crabmeat, which really gilds the lily. Because of that, I didn't add a lot of competing flavors. In my opinion, the best guacamole is all about the avocado, which I keep as chunky as possible. Lime juice, garlic and salt, maybe a bit of cumin and a diced, seeded tomato, are enough for me.
Tasty dips and football — that's something to cheer about.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.