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The New Fondues: Skinny Dipping

If you were savvy enough to hold onto that fondue set that’s been gathering dust for the last 30 years, now is the time to dig it out of the closet. If you weren’t, you might want to go out and buy another. Fondue is back.

This renewed popularity should not come as a big surprise. Fondues offer home cooking on an entirely new level: The food is fresh and the cook needs no experience. What’s more, spearing morsels of food on long forks and dipping them into a potful of hot bubbling sauce is lots of fun.

But fondues have a new focus for the ‘90s. Fondue used to come in three basic styles--all of them fattening. First there was the standard cheese fondue: bits of bread dipped into a bubbling mixture of cheese and wine. Then there was beef fondue: cubes of meat cooked by immersion in boiling oil. Finally there was chocolate fondue: fruit bathed in melted chocolate.

But the new fondue features a well-flavored broth in which vegetables, meat and poultry are cooked. The result is delicious, straightforward food that takes its cue from classical dishes such as bollito misto and pot au feu.

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Aside from preparing the broth and horseradish sauce and blanching some of the vegetables, fondue preparation is minimal and easily done ahead of time. Rice pilaf, also a do-ahead dish, is an ideal accompaniment, as are a crusty loaf of bread and a bottle of light red wine, such as a Zinfandel.

Should you feel the urge for dessert fondue, buy your favorite fudge (or caramel) sauce and put it into the fondue pot to heat. Thin as necessary with cream, milk or water, then pass strawberries, thick slices of banana, pear, kiwi and small chunks of pound or angel cake. Plan on good, leisurely eating, lots of fun . . . lots of napkins.

Here, the meat is essentially poached and the vegetables are reheated in a fragrant broth. Except for the mushrooms and snow peas, the vegetables need to be blanched or steamed in advance until they are almost cooked. When these vegetables are speared onto the fork, they will take a short time to become tender and hot. Any leftovers--beef, vegetables and broth--can be cooked into a great-tasting soup. The Horseradish Sauce is sharp and bright-tasting, very much in the style of pot au feu. NEW BEEF AND VEGETABLE FONDUE

Choice of vegetables (choose at least 3, keeping in mind color contrast and flavors): asparagus spears, 2-inch pieces peeled carrots and parsnips, quartered peeled turnips, broccoli florets, thick slices zucchini, small trimmed mushroom caps, Chinese pea pods

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1 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed of all visible fat, cut in 1-inch cubes

Fondue Broth

Horseradish Sauce

Blanch choice of vegetables in large quantities of salted water or steam just short of being completely cooked so they are not limp. (Mushrooms and Chinese pea pods do not require precooking.) Place in colander and hold under cold running water to stop cooking and preserve bright color. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels.

Arrange vegetable selection and meat attractively in separate dishes. Or arrange complete dinner portion on each guest’s plate, grouping each food separately. (Can be done ahead and refrigerated, covered airtight. Let come to room temperature before using.)

Heat Fondue Broth on stovetop or in microwave oven. Fill fondue pot and keep remaining broth hot on stovetop to refill pot as needed. Broth should be hot and simmering. Cook meat in fondue pot 1 to 1 1/2 minutes for rare, vegetables about 1 minute or until hot and tender-crisp. Serve with Horseradish Sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Fondue Broth

3 (14 1/2-ounce) cans clear chicken broth

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1 small onion, cut in half, each half stuck with whole clove

1 carrot, thinly sliced

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced

1 leek, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 bay leaf

2 cloves garlic, cut in halves

Salt

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1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine chicken broth, onion, carrot, celery, leek, tomato paste, bay leaf and garlic in 3-quart saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat. Simmer covered 30 minutes.

Strain vegetables from broth, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper. (Can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen as long as 3 months. Heat to boiling before using. Adjust seasonings.)

Horseradish Sauce

3/4 cup whipping cream

3 to 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 to 4 tablespoons horseradish

2 teaspoons minced parsley

Whip cream to soft peaks in mixer bowl. Fold in 3 tablespoons each mustard and horseradish. Add remaining mustard and horseradish to taste. Garnish with parsley.

Here, a traditional Armenian pilaf combines rice with strands of pasta that are sauteed quickly in oil until they are golden brown. It’s an easy, interesting and delicious variation on the rice theme.

RICE PILAF

1/2 cup capellini, vermicelli or spaghettini, broken into 2-inch lengths

1 tablespoon light-tasting olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 small onion, minced

3/4 cup long-grain rice

2 cups chicken stock or broth

Salt

Cook pasta over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Heat olive oil in 1 1/2-quart saucepan. Add garlic and onion. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Add rice and saute few minutes. Add pasta and 1 3/4 cups broth and bring to boil. Simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked, about 17 minutes. Stir with fork. Add remaining broth if needed.

(Can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Reheat gently in microwave oven or on stovetop, adding water as needed for desired consistency.) Makes 4 servings.


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