I must confess something. I love Valentine’s Day. Don’t roll your eyes! For me, it has very little to do with romantic love, but rather family. As a kid my dad was routinely out of town on Valentine’s Day, but my mom would always have heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for my brothers and me, and she would make a special dinner, even if it was just pasta with a jar of red sauce. It felt like such a treat—a scarlet evening in the middle of gray winter, usually on a school-night. Plus, let’s admit it, I’m always up for an excuse to celebrate, whatever the occasion.
James and I have always made dinner at home on Valentine’s Day (with the exception of one night out in New York City, where we paid altogether too much for forgetful food and frightful crowds), starting with a special cocktail and easing into a simple and quick but elegant meal. For a couple of years it was seared scallops, then steak, then a few years back we started making fondue. There’s something both romantic and fun about sharing a bubbling pot of food. I throw together a classic cheese fondue with crusty bread, steamed vegetables, chunks of garlicky sausage and slices of apple for dipping (making it into a whole meal). I always make fondue with Comté cheese (full disclosure – I work with the Comté Cheese Association, but regardless, it’s my favorite cheese in the world). It’s nutty and buttery and melts beautifully. You could also use Gruyere or a good quality Emmenthaler, or a mix of both. Best of all—especially for a mid-week Valentine’s celebration—fondue is both quick and easy. Simply toss shredded cheese with cornstarch (this helps bind the fondue, ensuring it won’t break), and melt it slowly into simmering white wine. Voila!
For dessert we finish with a small bowl of chocolate “fondue.” I actually just melt good quality dark chocolate with a dash of cream and liqueur, and serve it in a small bowl or ramekin (it doesn’t last long enough to harden). We dunk in pieces of fruit and chunks of whatever frozen cakes/cookies I have hiding in the freezer.
It’s usually the only fondue we have all year, and it’s something to look forward to. Last year Ella joined us for the first time and couldn’t get enough of “cheese bread.” I even strung red streamers around the table for a festive flair (again, don’t roll your eyes!). What can I say? For a Tuesday, it was pretty wonderful.
- 1 pound mature Comté (preferably 10-18 months), shredded (about 5 cups shredded)
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 garlic clove , peeled and halved
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine (preferably Jura wine, if possible)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Good quality crusty bread , cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
- Steamed vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, turnips, fingerling potatoes), sausages and sliced apples for serving (optional)
- In a large bowl, toss the shredded Comté and cornstarch until well combined.
- Rub the inside of fondue pot with cut sides of garlic. Discard garlic. Add wine and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Add a quarter of the Comté and stir until melted. Continue stirring in cheese, a quarter at a time, until melted. Cook, stirring, until fondue is completely smooth and richly coats the back of a spoon. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
- Serve the hot fondue with crusty bread for dipping, along with steamed vegetables, sausages and apple slices, if you wish.