I can say without question that my favorite kitchen tool is a big cast-iron skillet, unmarked but for the "8" near the handle, that was old when I got it some 30 years ago. You can cook just about anything in it. It's a bit crusty, even rusty on the outside. But the inside is as smooth as black marble and more nonstick than modern nonstick pans.
The Seattle-area mother-daughter team of Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne are women after my own heart. They were the authors in 2004 of "The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook," which was subtitled, "Recipes for the Best Pan in Your Kitchen."
I didn't catch up with them until a couple of years ago, when they came out with "Cast Iron Skillet: Big Flavors: 90 Recipes for the Best Pan in Your Kitchen."
And this month, they've come out with a second edition of their original book (that sold more than 80,000 copies), which has 95 good recipes, from savory mains to desserts to surprises such as the Pecan Sticky Buns beautifully depicted on the cover. The publisher, Sasquatch, says the book "has been updated with more vegetable recipes for today's healthier diets and all-new color photography."
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NO-FAIL BEEF STEW
“The key to successful beef stew is to make the beef melt-in-your-mouth tender,” write Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne. “You first need to brown it well, which a cast-iron pan does perfectly. When the stew is simmering, you don’t want to add excess moisture by allowing condensation to form on the lid. To prevent this, wrap the lid in a dish towel (the corners should be on top of the lid) before placing it tightly on the skillet.”
They suggest serving this stew over polenta or mashed potatoes; we enjoyed a halved recipe over the latter. Or 6-year-old didn’t like the olives, but we thought they added a nice touch of flavor and texture.
2 pounds beef stew meat
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed and
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into 2-inch-thick slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 14.5-ounce cans crushed tomatoes with their juice [the authors like Muir Glen-brand fire-roasted crushed tomatoes and suggest if you can’t find those, just add 1⁄2 teaspoon paprika to regular crushed tomatoes or chopped tomatoes]
1 cup full-bodied red wine (such as Cabernet
1½ cups water
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup pitted or unpitted green olives
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley for garnish
Season the meat with the salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a deep 12-inch cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in 3 or 4 batches, add the beef to the pan and cook, browning on all sides, for about 5 minutes. Transfer the browned beef to a plate, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and add the next batch of beef. You need to work quickly between batches so that the meat bits in the pan don’t blacken. Repeat with the remaining batches.
Reduce heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Add the mushrooms, onions, celery, carrots, garlic and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Return the beef to the pan and stir in the tomatoes and their liquid, wine, water and bay leaves. Bring to a light boil, and then reduce the heat to low. Cover (as per the headnotes above) and simmer for 1 hour.
Add the Worcestershire sauce and olives and cook, covered, for another 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.
If the stew seems to have too much liquid and you would like to thicken it, place a large strainer over a large bowl and pour the stew into the strainer to drain off the liquid. Move the strainer to another bowl and set aside. Pour the stew liquid back into the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat until it starts to thicken. Do not reduce for too long or the sauce will become too salty. Return the beef and vegetables to the pan, warm and serve garnished with parsley.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
— “The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook: Recipes for the Best Pan in Your Kitchen,” second edition, by Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne (Sasquatch, Oct. 2013, $19.95)
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Clams with Sausage, Ham and Spices
“This recipe hails from Portugal, where they cook the clams in a cataplana — a clam-shell-shaped metal or copper casserole,” write Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne in the their 2011 cast-iron-skillet book. “But not everyone owns a cataplana, and we’ve found that the cast-iron skillet is a perfect substitute. This is a very flavorful dish; we love the heat and saltiness you get from the sausage and the ham. When serving this dish as an entree, serve the clams over brown or Spanish rice, or serve with a fennel salad and a loaf of crusty French bread.
1⁄2 pound linguica
sausage or chorizo or other smoked sausage
1⁄4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon paprika
1⁄4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black
3 ounces serrano ham, prosciutto, or other lean smoked ham, sliced into 1⁄2-inch pieces
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1⁄2 cup dry white wine 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 small bay leaves, broken into pieces
1½ pounds small clams, washed and scrubbed
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or 1⁄2 lemon
Bring a pan of water to a boil. With a small, sharp knife, remove the casing from the sausages. Crumble the meat coarsely and drop it into a sieve. Plunge the sieve into the boiling water and boil briskly for 1 minute. Then spread the sausage meat out on layers of paper towels to drain.
In a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and stir frequently. Cook until they are soft and transparent but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the paprika, red pepper flakes, and a generous grinding of black pepper. Cook for a minute or 2.
Add the sausage meat, ham, tomatoes, 1⁄4 cup of the parsley, wine, garlic and bay leaves, raise the heat, and bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, cook briskly until most of the liquid has cooked off. Arrange the clams over the meat and tomato mixture.
Cover with a lid or foil and cook over medium heat until all the clams open, about 10 minutes. Discard any that remain closed. Squeeze the lemon juice over the clams and sprinkle with the remaining parsley.
To serve, transfer the clams to warm soup bowls and ladle sauce over them.
Makes 4 servings as a main dish or 6 to 8 servings as an appetizer.
— “Cast Iron Skillet: Big Flavors: 90 Recipes for the Best Pan in Your Kitchen” by Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne (Sasquatch, 2011, $19.95)