The Swiss have perfected food by firelight. It's called raclette.
A clamplike gadget holds a half-round of mild cheese so its cut face can be pushed close to the flames.Then assembly-line serving can take place. A puddle of the softly melted cheese is scraped onto each warm plate, quickly accompanied by boiled potatoes and sour gherkins. Melt, scrape, melt, scrape. Dozens of platefuls can be so served until the half-round of cheese has dwindled to the rind.
Like most local customs, however, this one is most charming and practical in its place of origin - in this case, in view of the Alps.
To enjoy our fireside cheese, we can do the melting-pot thing and borrow a pizza crust from the Italians.
Serve this simple walnut-and-cheese pizza some chilly evening when the fireplace is practical, or simply by candlelight.
A toasted-cheese pizza seems right with sturdy mugs of tomato soup. A fine side dish is a black-bean-and-corn salad. To expand the meal to feast proportions in case of fireside guests, add a platterful of antipasto ingredients, such as blanched broccoli florets, raw strips of red bell pepper, a few imported olives and marinated mushroom caps.
To make the cheese pizza: Unroll a refrigerated prepared pizza crust, or use your own pizza dough for a 12-inch round. Press out on a lightly greased pan.
Spread with 1/2 cup mascarpone or ricotta cheese that has been blended with a couple tablespoons of grated Parmesan and freshly ground pepper or an interesting seasoned-pepper blend, such as a Szechuan style with sesame seeds. Spread the moist cheese evenly and thinly over crust.
Have lowest oven rack set in a 425-degree oven.
Top pizza with 13/4 cups shredded Italian-style cheeses (a blend is good, such as provolone and mozzarella). Finish with a shower of 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts. Bake at 425 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust golden brown.
To make the black-bean-and-corn salad: Place 1 cup frozen corn kernels in a large mixing bowl. Add 2 (15-ounce) cans of black beans, rinsed and well drained. Gently stir in a 4-ounce package of crumbled feta cheese, 1/2 cup finely chopped onion or red onion, 1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper and well-drained diced tomato, if desired.
Shower this no-fat salad with 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. A teaspoon of jerk-seasoning blend is an interesting addition, or add your own blend of seasoned salt, freshly ground pepper, a fruity Caribbean hot sauce or green Tabasco and a dash of allspice.