Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

Some of the best dinner parties I've been to are the type where you sit around the table preparing your own food. Even if you don't know the other guests, it's difficult to stay shy and aloof when you're dipping ingredients into a communal pot - it helps to break the ice.

Cheese fondue (pictured)
This recipe is from food stylist Nellie Ming Lee, who says she got it from a Swiss friend who worked at Café du Gruetli in Geneva, Switzerland.

While you don't need to use top-quality aged cheese for this, don't go to the other extreme by using the waxy-tasting pre-grated, packaged stuff.

2 garlic cloves, halved
About 500ml dry white wine, divided
2 tsp cornstarch or potato starch, or more as needed
700 grams mixed grated cheese (Lee uses a mixture of gruyere, emmental and comté)
10ml kirsch (optional)

To serve:
Large cubes of good quality bread
Cornichons
Pickled onions
Crudités (such as broccoli or cauliflower florets, small carrots and cherry tomatoes)
Potatoes, boiled until tender, then served whole, quartered or halved (depending on size)
Thinly sliced cured meats, such as bresaola (air-dried beef), ham and sausage

Rub the interior of the fondue pot with the cut-side of the garlic cloves, then leave the garlic in the pot. Pour 375ml of the white wine into the fondue pot, add the cornstarch or potato starch and stir to dissolve. Place the pot over a medium-high flame and bring to a simmer, stirring often to prevent lumps. Turn the heat to medium then add the grated cheese in handfuls, letting each addition melt until smooth before stirring in more. Stir constantly so that the mixture remains smooth. If the mixture becomes too thick, drizzle in a little wine. If the mixture starts to separate, dissolve more potato starch or corn starch in some of the remaining wine and stir it in; if it's too thick, stir in some additional wine.

The fondue is ready when it's slightly stretchy and coats a bread cube. Stir in the kirsch, if you're using it, then put the pot over the fondue burner. Serve with bread, cornichons, pickled onions and whatever other accompaniments you like.

Bagna cauda
I love this pungent dip, but I'm careful who I serve it to and who I eat it with because not everybody loves copious amounts of anchovies. This recipe is adapted from one in The Classic Italian Cook Book by the late Marcella Hazan. She explains that it should be prepared in an earthenware pot (I use a chocolate fondue pot) and kept warm over a tea candle. She also says that the vegetables should be raw, but I prefer some of them (such as broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus) blanched. The vegetable assortment listed here is not definitive - serve anything you like.

Serve the bagna cauda with bread (to clear the palate between bites) and plenty of white wine.

180ml olive oil
45 grams unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
8-10 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and chopped
Fine sea salt, as needed

To serve:
Broccoli and cauliflower, florets and stalks separated (the stalks should be peeled), blanched in lightly salted water
Asparagus spears, blanched in lightly salted water
Artichoke, cooked until tender
Young zucchini, cut into batons
Lettuce or young spinach leaves
Small radishes, trimmed
Small carrots, peeled
Enoki mushrooms, cut into small bundles
Red, orange or yellow bell peppers, core and seeds removed and discarded, the flesh cut into wide strips
Fennel bulb, cut into thin slices
Cherry tomatoes

Put the oil and butter in a pan and set over a low flame. As soon as the butter foams, add the garlic and cook briefly - don't let it colour. Add the anchovies and stir over a low flame until they dissolve. Season with salt then put the dish on a fondue holder warmed by a tea candle. Serve with vegetables, crusty bread and chilled white wine.

White chocolate fondue
This isn't the easiest thing to serve. The problem is the white chocolate, which burns easily: even the heat of a tea candle will scorch it. It's best to serve it in a small enamelled cast-iron pot (which retains heat) that's been rinsed with boiling water just before being filled. Have more of the white chocolate fondue in the kitchen - keep it warm in a double boiler, with the bowl set over a pan of water that's hot but not even simmering. Use this to replenish the communal pot as needed.

Because white chocolate is so sweet, serve the fondue with fresh berries, which refresh the palate.

240 grams good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
About 80ml cream
20ml brandy or cognac

For dipping:
Fresh strawberries (use smaller ones and keep the stems on), raspberries, blackberries and blueberries

Put the chocolate and cream in a microwavable bowl. Microwave on high, stirring every 30 seconds, until the chocolate is about 90 per cent melted. Stir, letting the residual heat melt the chocolate completely. Stir in the brandy or cognac. The mixture should be fluid enough to lightly coat a wooden spoon; if needed, stir in a little more cream. Fill an enamelled cast-iron cocotte with boiling water, leave for about a minute, then pour out the water. Dry the cocotte before filling it with the chocolate fondue. Serve with the berries. Replenish the cocotte as needed with the warm fondue.