By Melissa d’Arabian, Associated Press
Cheese fondue is the ultimate winter comfort food. Living in France in my early 30s, I fell in love with the classic recipe made with crisp white wine and nutty gruyere cheese.
One of my favorite spots in Paris was a restaurant whose named translated literally into “Bread, Wine, and Cheese” that was hidden away in a cozy underground cave with low ceilings. Stepping inside from invariably chilly rainy Paris nights, we’d be hit with an appealingly musty aroma, like a freshly-popped wine cork combined with heady, fatty, aged cheeses.
French fondue is life-changing. And I’ve found a way to capture all that flavor for a fraction of the calories. Just kidding. Truth is, I can’t completely mimic my beloved wine-cave version of melted bliss. But, I can get close enough to scratch the cheese-fondue itch in a dip while staying reasonably healthy, thanks to a sneaky ingredient: white beans.
Cooked white beans add lush body to the dip, so I can swap out a bunch of the cheese and heavy cream, bringing the calories and fat way down. Low-fat cream cheese, or Neufchatel, boosts the cheesy factor, so a mere half cup of high-quality grated gruyere goes a long way to keeping the dip squarely in the cheese-fondue flavor profile, helped by dry mustard and a dash of ground nutmeg.
The beans are also a wise way to boost the nutrient profile — one cup of white beans adds 19 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber. If you are entertaining on a budget, including frugal-friendly beans in your menu to stretch more expensive ingredients (like gruyere) is a smart move — guests will be satisfied with the extra fiber and protein. Since this is a dip, it pairs beautifully with veggies to create a stellar winter crudité — steam up cubes of butternut squash if you really want to winterize.
The beans offer a final benefit, and I’ve saved the best for last. Blended beans stabilize the cheesy dip, so you can serve it warm, room temperature, or chilled — a relief if you are entertaining this holiday and don’t want to worry about cheese congealing. This dip will stay perfectly creamy all party-long.
CHEESE FONDUE DIP
Start to finish: 15 minutes
Servings: Approximately 8
1/2 cup sliced shallot (about 2 large shallots)
1/4 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth, divided
4 ounces Neufchatel cheese (“light cream cheese”)
1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground black pepper
1 cup cooked white beans, drained and rinsed if canned
Cook the shallot and sage in the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, until shallots are soft (but not brown), about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour and over the shallots and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
Deglaze the pan with the wine, and let bubble for a minute to let the alcohol evaporate. Add 1/4 cup of the broth and stir. Add the Neufchatel cheese and stir as it melts and creates a thick, creamy mixture, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the gruyere cheese and turn off the heat — it will melt with the residual heat. Let mixture cool a few minutes.
Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/4 cup broth, lemon juice, dried mustard, nutmeg, pepper and beans in a blender. Blend on high until smooth, about 30 seconds. (If bean mixture is too thick to blend, add a tablespoon of water.) Scrape the cream cheese mixture into the blender and blend all together until very creamy, about 30 seconds.
Serve warm, room temperature or cold.
Nutrition information per serving: 118 calories; 48 calories from fat; 5 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 17 mg cholesterol; 122 mg sodium; 9 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 6 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook “Supermarket Healthy.”