I am all for buying two or three wedges of nice cheeses, plopping them on a cutting board, surrounding them with grapes and nuts and maybe something exotic like quince membrillo, and crossing “make-hors d’oeuvres” off my to-do list.
But every so often it’s nice to present something a teensy more special, more awe-inspiring, more spectacularly delicious. This baked fontina is the favorite party trick of my aunt — not the one that introduced me to salsa di parmigiano, the other one. She serves this bubbling fontina-herb-and-garlic-filled cast-iron skillet just as instructed with lots of crusty bread and swears that not a morsel ever remains. Because it is quite decadent, her other offerings consist of crispy kale chips and radishes with sea salt. My aunties are just full of good ideas.
This is definitely another good one to know this time of year — it’s super easy to put together and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. And if you are starting to feel anxious about how you might keep guests out of the kitchen this holiday season, here’s your solution: just plop down this cast-iron skillet in a nice cozy spot as far from your kitchen as possible — you’ll be sure to find some peace. But work quickly, because it won’t last long.
Note: I made a half recipe (using slightly less than half the amount of cheese) and baked it in one of these mini Lodge cast-iron skillets. It worked beautifully.
1 1/2 pounds fontina*, rind removed and 1-inch-diced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 crusty French baguette
*Suggested brand: Italian Fontina Val d’Aosta (I could not find this…just used what I could find at the grocery store)
1. Preheat the broiler and position the oven rack 5 inches from the heat. (If you can’t get it exactly 5 inches, don’t worry — mine was more like 10.)
2. Distribute the cubes of Fontina evenly in a 12-inch cast-iron pan. Drizzle on the olive oil. Combine the garlic, thyme, and rosemary and sprinkle it over the cheese and olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and place the pan under the broiler for 6 minutes (or longer if your pan is farther from the heat source), until the cheese is melted and bubbling and starts to brown.
3. Serve the baked Fontina family-style-right out of the oven in the cast-iron pan with crusty chunks of bread for everyone to dip.