The rains have come, and I am excited. This means that I can finally make a rainy day meal. Big deal, you may say, if you are in blustery New England, or, say, drizzly London. Well, in California where the event of rain can often warrant breaking news on television, when the calendar says November, yet the unfailing sunshine and blue skies imply al fresco, this transplanted 4-season girl gets positively giddy when the weather takes a turn to the gray. Finally, my hankering for warm, comfort food is actually in sync with the precipitation and wind outdoors.
Tonight's dinner will be a cheese fondue. I know I am getting ahead of myself with such a wintry meal, but I am seizing the opportunity to make a family favorite. Fondue is something I prepare with a great deal of nostalgia, as it takes me back to life in Switzerland where I lived for a number of years and developed an affinity to the Swiss approach to cheese. Read more on that...
This recipe is my version of the traditional fondue. Serves 4-6.
2 cups white wine - typically a Swiss white wine, but you may have noticed that this is rarely exported. I substitute a Semillon or a Sauvignon Blanc.
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb. grated alpine cheese such as Gruyère, Emmental, Appenzel, Comté - Of all ingredients this is most important. A Gruyère cheese that says "Made in Wisconsin" is absolutely not the same as a genuine Swiss or French alpine cheese, and I recommend you try a taste test to see. I prefer using a mixture of Gruyère and Emmental.
3 tblsp. Kirsch or Calvados - as I have moved around and at times found it hard to purchase Kirsch, I substitute Calvados with nice results.
3 tblsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf peasant or sourdough bread, cut in 1" cubes
Note: Have all your ingredients ready before you begin. Once you start, the fondue will come together quickly, and during this time it must be constantly stirred.
Combine kirsch, cornstarch and nutmeg in a small bowl, stirring to combine.
Add wine and garlic to a large heavy saucepan. Heat over medium heat until tiny bubbles begin to form giving wine a fizzy appearance, without bringing to a boil.
Add cheese one handful at a time, stirring constantly until each handful is melted before adding the next.
Once cheese is added, continue stirring 1 minute - do not allow mixture to boil.
Stir in cornstarch mixture. Continue stirring until mixture thickens to fondue consistency.
Remove from heat. Pour cheese mixture into a pre-warmed fondue pot and serve immediately with freshly ground black pepper.
Use bread cubes on fondue forks to stir the fondue in the pot at the table. Avoid letting the fondue boil in the fondue pot.
In addition to bread, try dipping parboiled broccoli and cauliflower florets, baby potatoes, carrots and apple chunks in the cheese.