With the blustery weather the Northern hemisphere is having right now, there are plenty of reasons to stay in and gather with family over holiday food. And for safety's sake, I just hope that is what most people are doing. There are many dishes that create a sense of togetherness, but none is as famous as fondue. This dish of melted cheese originates from the Alps. The Swiss popularized and designated it a national dish in the 1930s. It eventually crossed the pond and became extremely popular in suburban America during the 1960s. There are also French and Italian versions, like Fonduta, as it's called in Italy.
Fonduta is a specialty of Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta. It is made with fontina, a young cow's milk cheese that melts much like mozzarella. Its taste is similar to other Alpine cheeses, like Gruyère and Emmental from Switzerland. The big difference between Swiss fondue and fonduta is that the Italian recipe does not include wine, garlic, or cornstarch as thickener. Instead fonduta is made with butter, milk, and egg yolks as thickener. It comes together much like custard and is made in a bain-marie, a double boiler. The final dish is richly flavored and silken. It's ideal for a communal gathering of family or a New Year's Eve party with friends. Just add a roaring fire, and complete the Alpine feel.
This recipe is pretty much traditional. My extra touch is a bit of Cayenne pepper to add heat to the back of the throat. The classic Italian finishing touch is a shaving of white truffle. But since that is out of practically everyone's monetary reach, I would recommend a drizzle of truffle oil instead. Serve the fonduta with crostini, which are toasted bread slices, and boiled fingerling potatoes, which are just the right size to dip in and eat in one bite. Baby pickles, called cornichon in French, are also very nice to serve alongside, as they cut through the richness of the cheese. Stay warm at home with a bowl of cheesy, creamy Italian fondue.
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup plus 1/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces fontina cheese, diced
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
toasted crostini, for serving
cornichon, for serving
boiled fingerling potatoes, for serving
In a measuring cup, beat together egg yolks. Add 3/4 cup milk and whisk until combined. Season with salt and Cayenne.
In a medium bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt butter. Add a portion of the milk mixture and a handful of cheese. Whisk until melted. Keep adding a little bit of the milk mixture and the cheese until all the ingredients are melted and incorporated.
At this point, if the mixture seems too thick, like yogurt, add 1/4 cup milk. The final consistency should be like heavy cream and coat the back of a spoon.
Pour fonduta into a heated earthenware bowl or a fondue pot set over a burner. Serve immediately alongside toasted crostini and bowls of cornichon and boiled potatoes. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.