Ready for a dip: Fondue hot again Communal pot: For quick, easy meals, folks are helping themselves to forkfuls of tasty tidbits dunked into cheese, oil or chocolate.

March 18, 1998|By Beverly Bundy | Beverly Bundy,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Along with lava lamps and shag carpeting, fondue is making a comeback.

This unassuming little meal from Switzerland is back in fashion with Americans, from gourmet magazine articles to kitchenware stores.

The concept couldn't be easier. A communal pot goes in the middle of the table, filled with melted cheese (the classic fondue) or oil (for fondue bourguignon) or melted chocolate (for a sinful dessert). Into the pot go spears of bread, beef cubes or fruit. How much easier can a host have it?

That's why fondue is perfect for a party -- an intimate one for a few couples, or a bigger affair with fondue pots stationed around the house, each one offering a different combination.

Even if you're not in a party mood, fondue makes a wonderful weekday meal. Cheese fondue goes from stove top to table in 10 minutes. Toss a salad in less time than that. And the best part is, kids think it's way cool.

Williams-Sonoma stocks both a copper and a stainless fondue set. But keep your eyes open. You might just get lucky at a spring garage sale.

Party supply list

* Fondue pot

* Sterno (for meat or cheese fondue)

* Votive candles (for chocolate fondue)

* Long-handled forks for the fondue pot

* Regular forks for eating (the fondue forks get too hot)

* Salad makings

* Solid, toothsome bread -- preferably without additions such as cheese, sun-dried tomatoes or olives

* For dessert fondue, mandarin oranges, whole strawberries and cubes of poundcake make ideal dippers.

Don't drop your bread

In Swiss tradition, a diner who loses his bread in the fondue pot must pay a penalty. The dropper often is called upon to buy a bottle of wine for the table. A female dropper might be required to kiss the man of her choice. Oh, the punishment!

Read all about it

Rick Rodgers' just-published "Fondue: Great Food to Dip, Dunk, Savor, and Swirl" (Morrow, $14), ranges from the classics to the outre (hot crab fondue). Not content to keep fondue as a dinner course, he even suggests lighting the Sterno for breakfast with Welsh rarebit fondue (sharp Cheddar cheese, stout and bacon bits swirled around with triangles of English muffins). From the temperature of the oil to the weight of the cheese called for in a recipe (with or without rind), the author covers all the details.

Which pot for which fondue?

* Enamel-coated pots can be used for cheese and meat fondue. They can get hot enough to handle the oil for the meat version, yet also heat evenly for the more delicate cheese fondue.

* Ceramic pots work well for cheese but not for meat. They're too delicate to bring to the high heat needed for the oil. Those pots also work well for chocolate fondue.

* Metal pots work well for meat but get too hot for either cheese or chocolate fondue. However, metal pots often have ceramic liners that make them workable for all fondue.

Classic Cheese Fondue

Serves 4

10 ounces each of Gruyere and Emmentaler cheese, grated

1 garlic clove, sliced

1 1/4 cups dry white wine (see note)

juice of 1 lemon

freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons cornstarch

about 2 ounces kirsch

freshly ground black pepper

good solid bread, cut into large cubes

Place the cheese into an enameled or flameproof earthenware pot. Add garlic, wine, lemon juice and a good scraping of nutmeg. Mix the cornstarch to a smooth paste with the kirsch and stir into the pot. Bring the mixture slowly to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn down heat and simmer softly for 4 minutes. Season well with freshly ground pepper and transfer to a spirit burner on the table.

The fondue should be stirred by the eaters while the dish is being consumed, with forks or spears holding the cubes of bread. This will avoid curdling and bottom burning. When you are nearing the end, you will find a delicious crust on the bottom of the pot, which is a great treat.

Note: Classically, the wine used is "fendant," a dry Swiss vintage. However, in the interest of availability and affordability, use a moderately priced American sauvignon blanc for cooking and imbibing along with the meal.

Per serving without bread: 324 calories, 23 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 78 milligrams cholesterol, 239 milligrams sodium, 64 percent of calories from fat

-- Adapted from "Cooking With the Two Fat Ladies" (Potter, $25)

Classic Beef Fondue With Sour Cream and Horseradish Sauce

Serves 4

2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed of all fat and membrane and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

solid vegetable shortening, peanut oil or canola oil

SOUR CREAM AND HORSERADISH SAUCE:

3/4 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

1 whole scallion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

To make sauce, combine sour cream, horseradish, scallion, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour for the flavors to blend. (The sauce can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Serve at room temperature.)

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