In recent years the definition of a “fondue” has grown very broad indeed. Traditionally a cheese based dish (“fondu” itself means melted in French), the dish can now be hot oil or broth cooked meats as well as any of a number of small semi-liquid dollops of you-name-it that one finds accompanying a main item on a plate.
You will find in the higher mountain regions of all alpine countries that the principal dishes are all variations on the same theme. The ingredients of the principal dishes of these regions will be cheese, bread, potatoes, onions, milk, cream, wine and ham. That is what the residents of these once very remote locations had available to them and the tradition lives on. You will find this to be the case not only in Switzerland, France, Italy and Austria but in many mountain regions around the globe.
The classic cheese fondue can take many, many forms. Among our favorite places for a fondue “degustation” is the Vieux Chalet located on a tiny side street in the quaint and remote Swiss village, Saas Fee. At any point in time the Vieux Chalet will have over 30 different fondues available ranging from traditional to exotic (curry fondue is excellent!)
One of our favorites is Tomato Fondue and here we present a few variations on the Tomato Fondue theme.
First it is essential to have the right tools at hand. For cheese fondues (and most Tomato Fondues are very cheesy) you should have on hand an earthenware or enameled cast iron pot. The character of this cookware assures that heat is distributed evenly and consistently. Second, for ambiance as much as ease of eating, a table burner is helpful once the dish has been fully prepared on the stovetop.
Here is a basic recipe and we will follow it with some recommended variations. This will serve 3 – 4 people. You can adjust the proportions of the ingredients any way you wish, fondue is impossible to prepare poorly!
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon to tablespoon of finely chopped onion (taste dependent)
Tomatoes – this element can vary widely in both type and amount. We recommend:
seeded and chopped and a cup is just enough and two cups will probably be too much
1.5 cups white wine
1 lb Emmentaler cheese
.5 lb Gruyere cheese
The cheese mixture is another opportunity to explore variations. Many prefer more even proportions of Emmentaler to Gruyere and some even prefer to reverse the proportions. Raclette and Fontina cheese also work excellently in Tomato Fondue.
2-4 teaspoons corn starch
White pepper to taste
Begin by rubbing the warming interior of the pot with the cut edge of the garlic cloves. Melt the butter over low to medium heat and add onions as your stir continuously.
Once the onions are soft and translucent add the tomatoes and keep stirring until the combination reduces to a fairly homogeneous mixture. Add a portion of the white wine and increase the heat.
Add smaller portions of the cheeses alternately and allow them to melt. We find that this process is nicely expedited if you chop or grate the cheese in a blender or food processor first. Add corn starch as you add additional portions of cheese as this will enhance the blending process. Continue to add the rest of the wine. Do not allow to boil.
Add the white pepper and transfer to the table for consumption.
Serve with small (the smaller the better) boiled potatoes (the Swiss prefer this) and/or cubed 1 inch pieces of bread. A nice variation is to offer blanched vegetables as a dipping instrument as well.
Popular variations include adding a small amount of whipping cream to the mixture. We enjoy adding 8 ounces of tomato juice as well. If you are looking for a more “pizza like” experience, and you should be as this is truly liquid pizza, add a pinch of dried oregano before transfering to the table.
Lore is also rich regarding penalties imposed for inadvertently dropping your bread into the fondue pot. We don’t wish to limit anyone’s imagination as to what so we’ll keep mum on this one… just be creative!