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. 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.

Cheese and Bean Fondue Dip

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. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 118 calories; 5 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 40 percent calories from fat); 9 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 17 mg cholesterol; 122 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 2 g fiber.


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