Sometimes plain just won’t do. Like vanilla ice cream without topping, plain cream cheese on a bagel looks naked to me. Lying there on a sliced bagel, it begs for a cover – a slice of lox or tomato, or even jam to spread over it. But with a couple of extra ingredients, you can transform cream cheese into a spread that stands on its own. with Father’s Day coming up, this spread and a batch of fresh bagels could be the centerpiece for a fabulous brunch.
Except in dire circumstances, I don’t buy ready-made veggie cream cheese. The take-out version is way too expensive considering that homemade is easy to prepare and is infinitely better. This version adds ricotta cheese to give the spread a lighter taste and to make it more spreadable. If you leave the ricotta cheese out, the spread is, of course, thicker.
Note: Although homemade ricotta is delicious and easy to make, I don’t think that it is necessary in a recipe such as this one where the small amount used is not front-and-center. Small curd cottage cheese would also work as a substitute for ricotta, although I prefer the taste and texture of the latter.
Piled into a pretty bowl, this spread is a crowd pleaser with bagels. It is best made at least several hours before serving, giving the flavors have time to meld, so it’s an ideal make-ahead spread for a brunch or luncheon. Add a bit more ricotta and you could even serve it as an appetizer dip with vegetable sticks or crackers. The recipe is easiest to make with a food processor, but you can make it by hand-mixing the ingredients if you don’t have a processor or prefer to get you upper arm work-out in the kitchen.
Vegetable Cream Cheese Spread
Servings – approximately 24 oz (a large bowl suitable for a party) Cost – $6-7
- 2-8 ounce bars of cream cheese
- 5 ounces of ricotta cheese
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- a 2-3” square of red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2-3 scallions (or more), finely chopped
- Salt (preferably kosher or other coarse variety) and freshly ground pepper
- Chives or additional scallions, finely chopped for garnish (optional)
- Food processor or bowl and fork
- Cutting board
- Soften the cream cheese by leaving it unopened on the counter for about an hour. Meanwhile, chop the vegetables. Aim for pieces about the size of your pinky nail, buy cutting thin strips then bundling the strips and chopping them.
- Process or hand-whip the cream cheese until it is pillowy-looking, then add the ricotta and process for another few seconds until the ricotta is thoroughly incorporated.
- Add the chopped vegetables and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse the mixture a few times until the vegetables are incorporated, but no so much that the chopped pieces disintegrate.
- Chill the mixture for another hour or longer to let the flavors meld. The spread will keep for about 5-7 days refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.
Now, wasn’t that easy? Be sure to get good bagels; it would be criminal to waste this spread on anything less.