Alpine Cheese Fondue

fondue vignette
~ Alpine Cheese Fondue ~
(from the TasteFood archives, because it’s that time of year)

It perplexes me when the subject of cheese fondue comes up, and it’s often accompanied by a snide reference to the seventies. I find it sad that this quintessential alpine dish is relegated to a by-gone era evoking images of shag rugs, unfortunate hair and textured bell-bottoms. Certainly this was not intended when the rural inhabitants of Swiss and French mountainous villages devised a warming winter dish incorporating their local cheese and winter staples.

I may be biased. I was never a fan of the seventies, even when I lived in them. Conversely, I am a huge fan of Switzerland. After all, I lived there for 10 years following my stint at cooking school in Paris. My husband and I were married in Switzerland, and our children were born there. As a result, Switzerland holds a special place in our hearts and will always be considered home to our family.

The best way to a country’s soul is to experience its cuisine. As an expat in Geneva it was a delicious pleasure to embrace Swiss specialties, namely chocolate and cheese. We’ll leave the chocolate for another post. As for the cheese, we enjoyed it in all of its forms, and the Swiss tradition of melting it in deep pots with wine and spirits quickly became a favorite. When we eventually moved from Geneva to London, and then on to Copenhagen, I became more reliant on making my own version of fondue for wintry family dinners to satisfy our wistful cravings.

This recipe has been tweaked and fine-tuned over the years, influenced by taste and available ingredients. In addition to serving it with the usual bread, I like to pass around bowls of parboiled baby potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli florets for dipping.

Alpine Cheese Fondue

Do not skimp on the cheese. Purchase the best quality, cave-aged Swiss or French alpine cheese you can find such as Gruyère, Emmental, Comté, Beaufort. I like to use 2/3 Gruyere and 1/3 Emmental.

Serves 6

1/4 cup Calvados or Poire William brandy
3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for serving
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1  garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 pounds high quality alpine cheese, grated
1 large loaf peasant-style or levain bread, cut in 3/4 inch cubes

Note: Have all of your ingredients ready before you begin. Once you start, the fondue will come together quickly, and during this time it must be constantly stirred. The fondue must not come to a boil during this time.

Combine Calvados, cornstarch, salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve the cornstarch. Set aside.
Add wine and garlic to a large heavy saucepan or fondue pot. Heat over medium heat until tiny bubbles form, giving the 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 – do not let the fondue boil.
Once cheese is added, continue stirring one minute – do not let the fondue boil.
Stir in cornstarch. Continue stirring until mixture thickens to fondue consistency. (I find that some cornstarch brands thicken more easily than others. If your fondue remains thin, add 1 more tablespoon cornstarch diluted with 2 tablespoons white wine.) Remove from heat. Pour cheese into a warm fondue pot if necessary. Serve immediately.

Serve with extra ground pepper, bread and parboiled vegetables such as small potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli florets.

Caramelized Onion Tart

Caramelized Onion Tart

This tart is a vehicle for caramelized onions. It’s also inspired by an appetizer I ate years ago in a Swiss auberge overlooking the Lake of Geneva, near our home at the time. It’s been so long, I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I do remember the onion tart. It was simple and rustic, just like the half-timbered dining room with its open fire where we tasted it. As we settled into our deep chairs and read the menu, our kir royales (champagne and creme de cassis) would arrive, accompanied by a complimentary sliver of tarte d’oignon. Sweet, rich and minimal, this tart was perfection in its simplicity. Today I make a version of this memory and enjoy another view from our California home. It’s so rich that I like to serve it a similar way, cut in thin slivers, served with a glass of wine.

Caramelized Onion Tart
Serves 8-12

For the dough – adapted from a recipe by Alice Waters:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut in 1/4 inch cubes
3 tablespoons ice water

Stir flour and salt together with a fork. Toss in butter. Work the butter into the flour with a fork or your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal, with some pieces of the butter apparent. Sprinkle in the water while stirring with a fork until the dough comes together, adding another tablespoon of water if necessary. Form into a ball and flatten. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour

For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons port wine
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces finely grated Gruyère cheese
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
1 egg, slightly beaten

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a deep skillet or pot. Add onions and salt. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown, soft and squidgy, about 30 minutes. Add port wine and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Remove onions from heat and stir in the pepper. Cool slightly.
While the onions are cooling, roll out the dough to fit in the bottom and up the side of a 10-inch round tart tin. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the bottom of the tart. Spoon onions into the shell and spread evenly. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon thyme over the onions. Brush the exposed crust rim with the egg wash. Sprinkle the tart and crust with the remaining cheese.
Bake in a preheated 375 F. oven until the crust is firm and golden and the onions have turned a rich golden brown, without blackening, about 30 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature garnished with thyme sprigs.

Golden Onion Tart with Gruyère and Thyme

Golden Onion Tart with Gruyère and Thyme

This tart is a vehicle for caramelized onions. It’s also inspired by an appetizer I ate years ago in a Swiss auberge overlooking the Lake of Geneva. It’s been so long, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I do remember the onion tart. It was simple and rustic, just like the half-timbered dining room with its roaring open fire where we tasted it. Sweet, rich and minimal, this tart was perfection in its simplicity. Today I make a version of this memory while we enjoy another view from our California home. I like to serve it in small slivers with glass of wine before dinner.

Golden Onion Tart with Gruyère and Thyme
Serves 8 to 12

For the dough – adapted from a recipe by Alice Waters:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut in 1/4 inch cubes
3 tablespoons ice water

Stir flour and salt together with a fork. Toss in butter. Work the butter into the flour with a fork or your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal, with some pieces of the butter apparent. Sprinkle in the water while stirring with a fork until the dough comes together, adding another tablespoon of water if necessary. Form into a ball and flatten. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour

For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons port wine
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces finely grated Gruyère cheese
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
1 egg, slightly beaten

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a deep skillet or pot. Add onions and salt. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown, soft and squidgy, about 30 minutes. Add port wine and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Remove onions from heat and stir in the pepper. Cool slightly.
While the onions are cooling, roll out the dough to fit in the bottom and up the side of a 10 inch round tart tin. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the bottom of the tart. Spoon onions into the shell and spread evenly. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon thyme over the onions. Brush the exposed crust rim with the egg wash. Sprinkle the tart and crust with the remaining cheese.
Bake in a preheated 375 F. oven until the crust is firm and golden and the onions have turned a rich golden brown, without blackening, about 30 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature garnished with thyme sprigs.