Cream cheese and thickened milk make this warm crab and spinach dip delightfully creamy but not overly rich. (Tom McCorkle / for The Washington Post)

Cream cheese and thickened milk make this warm crab and spinach dip delightfully creamy but not overly rich. (Tom McCorkle / for The Washington Post)

Bubbling-hot crab-spinach dip will warm up any Christmas party

Cream cheese and thickened milk make it delightfully creamy but not gut-bomb rich.

Dips, in general, are perfect party starters because they get everyone mingling and allow guests to nibble without having to put down their drinks. But when a dip is just out of the oven, bubbling and browned, it brings a whole other level of excitement to the room.

As the hot dish is shuttled to the table, cradled in oven mitts, a path clears, and oohs and aahs are inevitably murmured, almost as if royalty has arrived. This dip absolutely merits such a regal reception. It has the essence of a creamy spinach dip but with the added luxury of being packed with succulent crab meat.

Spiked with paprika, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese, it has a deeply savory flavor, and thanks to a thickened milk mixture and a modest amount of cream cheese, it is delightfully creamy without being heavy or overly rich.

Serve it with a variety of crisp, cut vegetables, crackers or baguette slices, and watch it be devoured.

Warm crab and spinach dip

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¾ cup low-fat milk

1 stalk celery, finely diced

¼ cup finely diced shallot (about 2 medium shallots)

1 clove garlic, minced or finely grated

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 ounces cream cheese

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

½ cup (1½ ounces) grated Parmesan cheese

12 ounces crabmeat, drained and picked over to remove any cartilage

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with the rack in the middle. Lightly oil a shallow 1-quart baking dish.

Place the spinach in a colander or fine-mesh strainer and, using your hands, squeeze out as much water as you can. In a small bowl, whisk the flour into the milk until dissolved.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil until shimmering. Add the celery and shallot and cook, stirring, until softened but not brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until aromatic, 30 seconds more. Stir in the milk mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a gentle boil.

Add the cream cheese and cook, whisking frequently, until the cheese has melted. Remove from the heat. Stir in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce and half of the Parmesan. Add the spinach and crab and stir until everything is combined. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan, and bake for about 25 minutes, until bubbling and browned on top. Let rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 10 servings. Nutrition per serving: 90 calories, 5 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 340 milligrams sodium, 4 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams sugar, 7 grams protein.

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