A healthy version of the classic fondue treat

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011

By Rocco DiSpirito
for the Associated Press
Want my trick for starting the year off on a fun and healthy note? Drag out the fondue pot!
Fondue is a casual and social way to celebrate. The trouble is, fondue — especially cheese fondue — can be incredibly unhealthy. A classic fondue starts with rich cheeses blended with a little spice and some white wine to create a thick, savory sauce for dipping chunks of bread and other morsels.
Delicious, but dangerous to your New Year’s resolutions. So I decided to make a recipe that lets you eat sinfully without the sin. The secret is in the blend of cheeses: I used a low-fat Jarlsberg, a creamy light brie and already low-calorie pecorino Romano to make a rich fondue that no one will guess is low in calories and fat.
For the liquid, I chose dry champagne — one of the lowest calorie adult beverages you can serve — and a thickener similar to cornstarch called arrowroot (which has virtually no calories) in order to get the right consistency and flavor.
Fondues are outrageously easy to prepare — virtually no cooking skill required. For starters, allow the cheese to stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before making the fondue so it will melt more quickly and incorporate more smoothly. Then simply stir together the ingredients in a saucepan, blend well and heat.
Next, pour the mixture into a fondue pot and perch it on a coffee table or dining table where everyone can indulge.
For healthy dunking, you can serve whole-wheat bread or grapes for dipping, or even pieces of raw broccoli, cooked shrimp or baked chicken strips. I suggest coating these with the thinnest layer of cheese possible, so that you can still taste whatever is at the end of your dipping stick.
Finally, pull up some chairs or cushions (yes, you can place your fondue pot right on the floor) for some relaxed eating fun.
And the numbers alone are reason to celebrate. Traditional cheese fondue can pack 670 calories and 29 grams of fat per serving. My version comes in with just 227 calories and 10 grams of fat.
New Year’s Eve Fondue
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 4
4 slices of light whole-wheat
bread (such as Pepperidge
16 seedless red grapes
1/4 C. water
1 Tbs. minced shallot
1 Tbs. arrowroot powder
4 ounces demi sec
champagne, divided
4 ounces Jarlsberg lite
cheese, finely shredded
2 ounces pecorino Romano
cheese, grated
2 ounces light brie, cut up
with rind removed
Salt and cayenne pepper
Heat the broiler. Set the top oven rack about 4 inches below the broiler.
Cut the crusts off of the slices of bread. Cut each bread slice into 4 equal strips. Wrap 1 bread strip halfway around one grape and poke a long metal skewer through the bread and grape so that the skewer is pushed through both ends of the bread strip with the grape in the middle. Repeat with remaining bread strips and grapes.
Place all 16 skewers on a large baking sheet. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the bread is browned and crisp, turning once halfway through broiling. Set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium-high, bring the water and shallot to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, until the shallots are tender, about 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the arrowroot with 1 ounce of the champagne. Pour the remaining champagne into the saucepan with the shallot. Whisk the arrowroot and champagne mixture into the saucepan. Continue to cook and whisk until the mixture is thickened, about 30 seconds.
Reduce the heat to low and add the Jarlsberg, whisking constantly until the cheese is melted. Add the pecorino and continue whisking until melted. Repeat with the brie. Season to taste with salt and a pinch of cayenne. Pour the mixture into a fondue pot and serve with the bread and grape skewers for dipping.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 227 calories; 10 g fat (39 percent calories from fat) (6 g saturated); 25 mg cholesterol; 11 g carbohydrate; 19 g protein; 2 g fiber; 502 mg sodium.
Rocco DiSpirito is author of the “Now Eat This!” and “Now Eat This! Diet” cookbooks.