Fondues are the perfect foil for winter blues, something gooey and melted wrapped around almost anything that we can dip or stick a fork into. For Pacific Northwesterners today is the year’s shortest day, longest night. Winter Solstice. Although we don’t dance around maypoles in chiffon, we do we have seasonal food rituals and celebrations having to do with the cold and dark, among them fondue.
We’re grateful for an excuse to dip winter vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, fennel, potatoes and squash into almost any sauce, especially melted cheese; fruit and cookies into chocolate. I feel better just thinking about it. So the other day I did get to thinking about it, and thinking about it and thinking about it and I couldn’t stop. I headed for the thrift shop looking for fondue-making apparatus, and was determined to concoct my own even if I came away empty handed. I would melt whatever I could get my hands on and dip away. But naturally, what I could get my hands on were cheese and chocolate.
Turned out that I borrowed a fondue set from my sister-in-law, Deb. If you’re so inclined check around – fondue sets are out there in thrift shops. Brand new is an option of course. Not frivolous kitchen paraphernalia, if you love fondue, i.e. melted cheese, there’s good reason for the official set. Off heat, cheese and chocolate begin to congeal within a few minutes, drastically altering the silky pleasure of the perfect melt. If you’re dying for fondue right this minute and don’t have the equipment, it’s possible to serve prepared fondue in a bowl and reheat contents in a microwave as needed . . . serve fondue in an oven- or hot water-warmed bowl placed in a hot water bath . . . or, just stand around the stove and go for it.
However you get there, fondue sets the mood for cozy coffee table tête-à-têtes with friends and lovers gathered around, merrily dipping into melted whatever. There should be candle or firelight. It could be a savory reduced and thickened broth with bread or roasted vegetables as the dipping medium. It could be the classics like cheese and chocolate. It could be mostly local by using locally produced cheese and chocolate, a Washington white wine, and so on. Quick to prepare, savor it slowly.
Cheese Fondue Appetizer
Coarsely grate 2 1/2 – 3 C Gruyere cheese, mix with 2 T cornstarch and set aside/ Rub the inside of a saucepan generously with a clove of garlic/ In saucepan bring 1 1/4 C white wine, 2 T lemon, 2 T Kirsch or Calvados (optional) to simmer/ Simmer for 2 minutes/ Add cheese, turn heat down and stir until it’s all combined.
Pour fondue into pot with Sterno, low level flammable heat source, lit and in place, or into a microwavable bowl for reheating. Serve immediately with pieces of sturdy bread, apple, pear, lightly steamed broccoli or cauliflower, squash, fennel, tortellini, breadsticks . . . add tomato salsa to the cheese melt. With fondue, like salad dressing, once you have the basic structure there are myriad possibilities for variation. Lots of cheese, 3 cups or so, 2 tablespoon of cornstarch or flour, 1 1/4 – 1/1/2 C white wine, a garlic-rubbed pot, a pinch of nutmeg or paprika, a splash of Kirsch if you like, and heat for melting – the basic formula. Though fondue was invented, perhaps out of necessity, using white wine, Gruyere and bread, use some Gruyere and whatever else is in the fridge.
The following fondue recipes, just their names, inspire invention:
Three-Cheese Fondue with Tomato Chutney
Onion Cheese Fondue
Chipotle Cheese Fondue
Garlic Cheese Fondue
Crab and Cheddar Fondue
Blue Cheese Fondue
Mexican and Pizza Fondues
Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Fondue
You get the picture. Add cinnamon and sugar to Brie and you have a dessert fondue. And, there’s always chocolate.
So easy, and again there’s a pretty standard approach which can be embellished to suit your own fancy. Just chocolate and whipping cream. Start there.
Heat the whipping cream to barely simmering (3/4 C), add chopped or grated dark chocolate (2 C), turn heat to low, stir until it’s combined and it’s ready. Several sources suggest no more than 64% cacao content. Theo, Fran’s or Dilettante are excellent sources of locally produced chocolate. Add more or less cream or chocolate as needed, a splash of cognac or brandy, chopped nuts, vanilla, a tablespoon of espresso, stand around the stove and dip away, or pour chocolate into a fondue pot, settle into a candlelit corner and take your time. Almost anything is dippable, especially pound cake, biscotti, marshmallows, graham crackers, dried fruits, bananas, apple, pear, strawberries when in season . . .
It’s the season for giving and Seattle Youth Garden Works is a cause worth supporting. Seattle Youth Garden Works has provided essential garden-based job training programs for Greater Seattle’s homeless and at-risk youth since 1995.
Baby it’s cold outside, and dark. This poem by Philip Larkin expresses the turn of seasons and *winter’s quiet secret.
Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.
As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.