Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fondue y friendship -- recipe #2

Cheese fondue will always conjure memories of friendship for me.  I could enjoy fondue anytime, even alone, but it couldn't be more satisfying and fun than with good friends, especially when one of them is Swiss with a family recipe to share.

Eleven years ago I moved here kicking and screaming about leaving Boston and having cows for neighbors.   Despite all my worries about leaving urban life behind, I quickly adapted to my new hometown.  I was, however, slow to make friends.  Working from home afforded me few opportunities to meet people.  After four years I had made only one local friend and she moved. 

Then Deano finished medical school and started residency here in Vermont.  We threw a Christmas party, inviting a bunch of first-year surgery residents, all new in town.  Lots of people showed up, including three very fun and cool women who quickly became some of my most important friends.  There was Anja the lawyer.  She is Swiss and the reason I have been lucky enough to know real fondue, the real Swiss way.   There was Jessica the physicist and artist whose work I proudly hang in my dining room.  And there was also Amanda the drug rep. Amanda has more flair, personality, and heart than anyone I've ever known. 

Our party went late.  After nearly everyone left, the four of us girls kept talking and drinking while our significant others slept on the sofas.  They hadn't meant to fall asleep, but they couldn't help it.  We laughed about that and so many things and we co-miserated about life with our over-worked, sleep-deprived, surgery residents.  Toward the end of the night Anja, Jessica, Amanda and I made a pact to be friends and start a book club.  We scrawled a drunken contract in pencil and we all signed it.  I still have it.  Our husbands became friends that night too and the eight of us have had so much fun together.  It has become a tradition of sorts for us to eat big dinners at my house.  Since at first I was the only one with children, my friends were nice enough to come to our house and eat late after my little people were sleeping.  In exchange I tried to feed them well.  After our dinners the guys typically would retire to the sofas or floors and, you guessed it, fall asleep.  On one occasion Deano didn't even make it to the sofa.  He literally fell asleep sitting at the head of the dining room table in the middle of one of these dinner parties. 

 I often wonder how I would have survived those first grueling years of Deano's residency without these friends who knew EXACTLY what I was going through.  I was pregnant with Johnny and miserable, lonely, and tired.  I barely saw poor exhausted Deano.  When I did he was completely wordless and spent - literally just stopping home long enough to shower, change clothes, maybe close his eyes for a few hours, and then go back to the hospital.  My friend Amanda will remember a call from me.  I was alone with GJ.  I was sick, exhausted, and feeling especially pregnant.  I decided to lay down on the floor and play with GJ who was 18 or 19 months old at the time.   ...I fell asleep!  I don't know for how long I slept but I awoke startled and panicked.  Thankfully, GJ was right there next to me, quietly playing, and unharmed, but I was so upset.  I called Amanda and she came right over.

Amanda and her husband Ryan have already moved away.  He finished his residency and they have settled in their permanent spot.  Anja's husband has also moved to begin a two-year fellowship and Anja will soon follow.  Deano and I move in five months.  Knowing that we're all scattering soon, I have these three dear friends on my mind a lot these days.

A few weeks ago I was reminded, by fondue, of our pledge of friendship.  The first "book club" event (we dropped the reading after about four or five books) was at Anja's house and she made fondue.  It was heavenly and we have yet to let her make us anything else.  We had Anja's fondue again a few weeks ago at my house and celebrated the birth of Jessica's third child and first son. Today and forever, fondue makes me think of the strength that the right friends in the right moments of our lives can deliver.

Consider treating your special friends to a pot of this oozy, gooey, pungent, and delicious treat

Anja's Swiss Fondue
This recipe was documented by me while Anja cooked.  All the specifics provided including equipment, instructions, and rituals are what I have come to call the "Swiss Specs."  Stray from them at your own risk.

Equipment
  1. You have to have a proper Swiss fondue pot from Switzerland.  It must not be made in China.
  2. An iron stand for holding the pot above the heat source at the dining table - this usually comes with the proper pot.  
  3. Fondue forks
  4. "Swiss Fire Gel" (I'm told you can get it at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  Weird.)
  5. One Swiss friend with a precious, family recipe on......an old pot-it?  Despicable!

 Ingredients

  1. Two whole garlic cloves per person
  2. 3-4 "Swiss-sized" whole peeled shallots.  I had very large shallots so we used only two.  
  3. Gruyere from Switzerland.  The recipe specifies 200 grams per person which is about .44 pounds.  We ended up using 2.25 pounds for a full pot and served six.
  4. Vacherin from France to add creaminess.  Anja says to use 2/3 Gruyere and 1/3 Vacherin.  It is difficult to find Vacherin in Vermont without a special order so allows for the substituion of Brie (without the rind) and says that an all Gruyere fondue is still tasty in a pinch.  I think we ended up using a half pound of Brie.
  5. 2T flour
  6. 3t French Dijon mustard
  7. 3T butter
  8. 3/4 of a bottle of dry Chardonnay from the Macon region of France
  9. 1t freshly cracked pepper
  10. a little bit of freshly grated nutmeg
  11. a splash of best-quality Kirsch
  12. Freshly baked French baguette from a good bakery, cubed
Steps
  1. Slice garlic cloves in half and rub thoroughly all over the pot; discard.  Add shallots whole.
  2. Cube cheese into 1" pieces, the smaller the better for more even melting.
  3. Add flour and all other ingredients (except wine and Kirsch).
  4. Fill pot with wine until you and just see it under the cheese (you'll use 3/4 of a bottle for a full pot).
  5. Place fondue pot over medium-high heat and bring to a soft boil, stirring the whole time.
  6. Add a splash of Kirsch when all the cheese is melted and then heat a minute longer.
  7. Serve on iron stand over heat and pass the cubed baguette.
  8. Serve each person a shot of Kirsch.
Rules and Rituals
  1. Do not drink water or anything carbonated with fondue.
  2. Both are too filling for such a heavy dish.  It is proper to serve a minty tea or white wine.
  3. No dipping of vegetables or other stuff; just bread.
  4. You have to salami as an appetizer and fresh berries for dessert. 
  5. The men in Switzerland and the heartiest women dip their bread into their shot of Kirsch before they dunk it into the molten cheese.  This really BURNS.  Proceed to this step with caution.
  6. If you drop your cheese from your fondue fork into the pot you must retrieve it and you must do a shot of Kirsch
  7. You can fight over the crispy layer of cheese that forms on the bottom of the pot.
  8. Do not eat fondue when you are pregnant.  Apparently we're too full already for such a heavy meal.  Anja's mother was mortified when she heard that Anja served it to me when I was toting Johnny around in utero.
  9. Fondue is for cold weather.  We had to really twist Anja's arm to make it for us in the summer.  She likes us so much she always relented.
  10. Share with friends. 

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