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Ooey gooey cheesy yum

Slaving over several savory appetizers to accompany the New Year’s toast simply isn’t worth it for two people. But a single pot of ooey-gooey cheese or melted chocolate can signify a party.

Fondue brings on the fun, even if the gathering is just the cook’s own household. Lay a blanket over the living room carpet, anchor it with the fondue pot and utensils, add some casually plated ingredients for dipping and bask in the warmth of your tribe, some candles and maybe your home’s fireplace.

The suggestion isn’t merely a flashback to the 1970s, judging by recent promotions for fondue kits with locally produced cheeses. Both Rogue Creamery in Central Point and Vinfarm in Grants Pass offer make-at-home fondue feasts. These curated crates of ingredients make nice gifts, but fondue is well within the average cook’s reach, even served from a slow cooker.

I’ve been making fondue since my college days when my then-boyfriend inherited a fondue pot that his mom likely unearthed from a cache of kitchen equipment mired in dust for at least two decades. We were intrigued by the concept and delighted to find a basic recipe tucked away in the box. Accomplishing a meal with few groceries or kitchen utensils strongly appealed to two students living on a shoestring.

And since that first taste of rich, wine-infused cheese mixture with crunchy French bread or — even better — slices of apple and smoked sausage, I’ve been hooked. I shared the discovery with my parents, who, in a strange anomaly of their generation, apparently had never owned a fondue pot.

But they couldn’t summon the appetite for christening their Christmas present that year. So I, too, inherited a fondue pot, albeit a circa-1990s version. This flimsy, metal vessel, however, was banished to the realm of chocolate fondues once I received, several Christmases ago, an enameled, cast-iron pot suited to sticky cheeses.

I decided to forgo the fondue pot entirely to try a recipe that recently appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Roasted Cheese Pumpkin is something of a double entendre. “Cheese” refers not only to the squash variety but to its stuffing of cheese — in other words, fondue. It’s a natural companion to wedges of apple or pear, crusty bread or good-quality crackers, and sausage.

The recipe is very similar to the classic cheese fondue I’ve prepared over the years, just with the addition of chunks of roasted pumpkin mingled with the dairy mixture. As an added bonus, there’s no sticky pot to scrub after dinner. Once the pumpkin’s flesh has been scraped out and the fondue scooped up, the shell gets discarded.

But a singular fondue doesn’t constitute a celebration. Easier to clean up than cheese is the salty-savory-spicy dip known as bagna cauda, a specialty of Italy’s Piedmont region. Simply melt some butter with some olive oil, add fresh garlic, salted anchovies and red pepper flakes for a sauce that redefines the role of crudite on any buffet. Crisp vegetables mellow in texture and intensify in flavor during a soak in bagna cauda. Keep a slice of baguette handy to catch any drips between the pot and the plate.

For a sweet treat, spike some chocolate fondue with your favorite flavored liqueur, then serve it with fresh and dried fruits, cookies, pretzels, nuts or cubes of cake for dipping. Chocolate fondue can usually stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes, eliminating the need for butane, alcohol or other fuels marketed for fondue sets and chafing dishes. Just stir the chocolate occasionally to prevent skin from forming on the surface.

Roasted Cheese Pumpkin

1 cheese pumpkin, 4 to 5 pounds

3/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup dry white wine

1-1/2 teaspoons honey

Few pinches of nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 (12-inch) baguette, sliced thin

2 cloves garlic, peeled but intact

Vegetable oil, as needed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut top out of the pumpkin and scrape out insides.

Toss the cheeses and thyme together in a bowl. In a large measuring cup or bowl, combine the cream, wine, honey, nutmeg and salt.

Toast the baguette slices and rub each slice with garlic. Lay a few baguette slices in a single layer inside pumpkin. Top with some cheese mixture, then pour on some cream mixture. Repeat until all ingredients are used up. (You might have a bit left over; save any baguette for serving.)

Place top back onto pumpkin, place pumpkin in a casserole or oven-safe dish. Coat outside liberally with oil.

Roast in preheated oven for about 2 hours or until pumpkin is tender all over and easily pierced with a fork. Let it stand for about 15 minutes.

Serve in scoops or slathers on top of toast rounds, crackers, pita chips or slices of apples.

Makes 4 servings.

Bagna Cauda

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed

10 anchovy fillets

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Pinch crushed red pepper

In a heated crock or top half of a double boiler, combine the butter and oil. Add the garlic, anchovies and peppers. Stirring, bring to a boil. Cook mixture for a few minutes until anchovies are dissolved.

Transfer to a heated fondue pot and serve with fresh vegetables or French bread rounds.

Chocolate-Orange Fondue

1/2 cup heavy cream

3 strips orange peel

7 ounces (41% cacao) milk chocolate, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur (optional)

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, bring the cream and orange peel to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes to infuse cream-orange flavor. Discard orange peel.

Place the milk chocolate in a medium bowl. Reheat cream until simmering, pour over chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds, then whisk gently until mixture is smooth. Whisk in the Grand Marnier.

Serve warm surrounded by dipping ingredients such as berries, cherries, figs or other fruit; marshmallows or miniature cookies.

Makes 4 servings (about 1 cup).