The frugal Swiss originally conceived fondue as a way to use up stale bread and old, hard cheese. When we got wind of fondue in this country, though, we turned it into a huge party food fad. During the late 1960s and early '70s, nearly everyone owned a fondue pot.
Part of the fun was sitting around the fondue pot, spearing chunks of bread on long forks and dunking the bread into hot, creamy cheese sauce. We ate it at parties, we ate it at home and we ate it in fondue restaurants. It was fun and it was silly, and when it was nicely made it was good.
And ultimately, just about the time that everybody had bought the pot and the spears, the fad peaked and disappeared.
But while we were making such a fuss over fondue, another Swiss dish was quietly introduced here. Raclette (from the French word for "to scrape") is an utterly simple cheese dish made by placing a half wheel or large chunk of Appenzeller cheese (or a particular cheese made in Switzerland especially for scraping--called Raclette) near a wood fire and letting the cheese soften and melt slightly. It is then scraped off the wheel, put on a hot plate and served with boiled new potatoes in their skin, chopped onions in vinegar and sour gherkins. This dish has never gained the panache of fondue--indeed, most people have never even heard of it--but it is a great dish when you need supper in a hurry.
You don't have to have a crackling wood fire to create Raclette today. If you heat the serving plates in the oven and put a portion of cheese on each plate, it will soften just enough to be ready to eat with the hot boiled potatoes and relishes. It can also be very good spread over warm slices of a hearty bread.
Cheese and apples go well together. With the first crop of Gravenstein apples, try making applesauce to serve warm over a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.
1/2 pound imported Swiss Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
1/2 pound imported Fontina, Appenzeller or Emmenthaler cheese, coarsely grated
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 cups dry white wine
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons kirsch
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large loaf French or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch squares with crust
Combine cheeses and cornstarch in large bowl and toss to mix well. Pour wine into 2-quart casserole or fondue-type pot and bring to boil on top of stove. Add garlic clove. Let wine boil 1 or 2 minutes, remove garlic and discard. Lower heat so wine is barely simmering.
Stirring constantly, add cheese, handful at time, letting each handful melt and blend into wine before adding another. When all is added and fondue is creamy and smooth, add kirsch, nutmeg and salt to taste. Adjust seasonings.
Place fondue pot over warmer in center of table. Serve with bread, using long forks to spear and dunk bread into fondue. If fondue gets too thick, add spoonful of wine and stir to blend. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
RACLETTE WITH POTATOES AND PICKLES
12 small new potatoes, boiled in skin and kept hot
1/2 pound imported Fontina, Gouda or Swiss Raclette cheese, cut into slices and divided into 4 portions
2 cups finely chopped onions
1/4 cup rice vinegar
8 small sour gherkins
Dark bread, warmed
About 20 minutes before serving, bring pot of salted water to boil. Add new potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and place in bowl in 350-degree oven to keep warm.
Place 1 portion of cheese on each oven-proof serving plate, then put into oven 5 minutes.
Mix chopped onions with rice vinegar and salt to taste. Place 1/2 cup pickled onion on each plate of cheese and top with 2 sour gherkins. Serve dark, warm bread on side. Makes 4 servings.
8 medium Gravenstein apples, peeled, cored and cut in chunks
1 tablespoon lemon juice,
Place apples in saucepan and add about 1/3 cup water. Bring to boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer several minutes. Add sugar to taste, starting with 1/2 cup if apples are tart. Squeeze in little lemon juice to taste if taste is flat.
Continue simmering, covered, about 10 minutes, or until apples are very tender. Remove from heat and taste again. Add more sugar (sugar will melt and mix in hot applesauce) and lemon juice to taste if needed. Set aside and keep warm. Serve over vanilla ice cream, if desired. Makes 4 servings.