Olive Garden

I spent the past week on the East Coast. I had a dear friend’s graduation in Washington, DC, spent time with friends in New York, and spent quality time with family while home in New Jersey. In this particular entry, I’m not going to write about Italian food or pizza. I’m not going to write about my favorite Italian place in Hillsborough, NJ, Café Graziella’s and their fantastic pastas and bruschetta. I'm not going to talk about the amazing prosciutto pizza I had at Angelo’s in New York. Nor will I talk about the hole-in-the wall on 84

th

 and 3

rd

Avenue and their pasta fagiole and caprese salad. I’m going to talk about the Olive Garden… and spinach dip.

I spent the weeks before my trip out east with the intention of enjoying some famous eateries and cocktail bars. I had lavish ideas of John Dory Oyster Bar, Spotted Pig, Les Halles, Dutch Kills, and Little Branch. I didn’t end up at any of these places or really anything else with a following. What I did do is eat a lot of food that felt good and not because of what was in it or how it was cooked or because it had a “name". It made me feel good because it was home and because I was with family. Shall I dare say it's what a true New Jersey-Italian experience is about?

My mom’s spinach dip. I am a sucker for this stuff. I don’t know what kind of crack is in it. Since I was 18 and I’ve come home to visit New Jersey from college in New York, my mother has always made sure that this dip was made for me to indulge into every single time. I don’t think she’s ever missed a trip. She also never fails to provide the ever-so-perfect pairing of Diet Coke. She didn’t miss this trip either. If heaven existed for me, it would consist of my family’s pool, 80 degree weather, Diet Coke, and dish of spinach dip. It would look something like this:

My grandparents used to live outside of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and we visited a lot when I was in the range of maybe 8-15 years old. Ft. Lauderdale sure as hell is not a culinary capital of the country and well, for my Italian grandfather, the Olive Garden was the best he could get. I always remembered his order of pasta pomodoro. The man never fails with pasta and red sauce. As a young girl, I loved the experience of being with my grandparents and eating ravioli no matter what place it happened to be- Olive Garden or otherwise. So now as a 25-year-old lady, my grandfather still insists that the Olive Garden is one of MY favorite restaurants. No matter what, he has to make sure that we go to my “favorite” restaurant- the Olive Garden. Now, I don’t have the heart to explain to my grandfather how I don’t appreciate Italian chains so much these days but that kind of concern is no matter. I go because he makes me laugh every time he talks about my favorite place in every phone call and every visit. I go because it’s going to be something I smile about for many days ahead. I go to enjoy my meal at the Olive Garden with my family as long as I have the opportunity.

These are my sweet, sweet grandparents:

 My mom's spinach dip:

  • 2 cups part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 blocks cream cheese, softened
  • 10 oz. packaged frozen chopped spinach, drained and squeezed dry
  • tortilla chips

Drain and squeeze dry spinach. Add about 2 tablespoons of the parmesan and mix. In a separate bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, sour cream, black pepper, garlic, and cream cheese. Then add spinach and parmesan mixture. Spread into pan and top with the rest of parmesan and mozzarella. Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. 

If you can, add a Diet Coke, a great family, and a pool in New Jersey.