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Opinion

The definition of a well-equipped kitchen is pretty subjective depending on the type of cooking you are doing. But there is one item with which you really can’t go wrong.

Author and chef Tachael Narins says no one should be intimidated by cast-iron pans.</p>

Author and chef Tachael Narins says no one should be intimidated by cast-iron pans.

If you’ve never used cast iron, or mastered the cast-iron pot or pan you might have hiding at the back of the kitchen cupboard — you don’t know what you’re missing. Rachael Narins, author of Cast-Iron Cooking (Storey Publishing, $19.95) can fill you in with proper pan care and recipes that will help you be an expert.

"Cast-iron pans are amazing because they do the job they’re meant to do. If treated well they ware naturally non-stick, and can last generations," Narins says.

"Isn’t that lovely? You can cook today on a pan your great-grandmother used."

Narins is from Los Angeles, and she attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

"I’ve worked in restaurants and culinary product development and I currently write, teach cooking, and I am a food-preservation and knife-skills expert," Narins says.

She is also a founder of Chicks with Knives (chickswithknives.com), a supper club started in 2007. It is a collective of women chefs in Los Angeles who share a commitment to sustainable, organic, local and ethical food. Her cookbook Cast-Iron Cooking includes 80 recipes for meals, snacks and desserts as well as cast iron care tips.

Narins’s affection for cast-iron pots and pans came out of her early work experience at a cookware store.

"I already loved cooking but became fascinated with the tools — pots and pans in particular," she says.

"I wanted to know everything so I could share that information — every pan is made of a different material, with different properties."

Some people shy away because they believe that caring and using the pans is too complicated.

"No one should be intimidated by a raw or unseasoned cast-iron pan," she says.

"It’s very durable. All you have to do is take the time to season it and make sure to dry it off after you clean it.

"If you do something wrong like scrubbing off the coating, or letting it rust, you can just season it again — it’s very forgiving."

She says to avoid boiling water in cast iron and to not use it for making tomato sauce unless the natural seasoning in the pan is really strong.

"The iron will react with the acid in tomatoes, making your sauce dark and it will have a metallic taste," she says.

Narins does have a favourite thing to cook in her cast iron.

"I have a bit of a corn bread obsession, and no pan is better suited to making a perfect golden corn bread," she says.

She began collecting all shapes and sizes of cast iron, and over the years has good luck finding them at estate sales and thrift shops. But like all collectors there is that one special item that speaks to her — a "holy grail of cookware" if you will …

"I sincerely covet my father’s Griswold No. 6 that his mother gave to him in the 1960s," she says.

"He’s in his 80s now and still uses it all the time — he re-seasons it every year, but other than that, it hasn’t changed a bit in more than 50 years.

"That pan is a thing of beauty."

Here are three recipes excerpted from Cast-Iron Cooking © 2016 by Rachael Narins. The photography is by © Keller + Keller Photography and all materials are used with permission by Storey Publishing.

The Dutch Baby with Blueberry Sauce is an American version of a Germa popover and is great for an elegant breakfast.</p>

The Dutch Baby with Blueberry Sauce is an American version of a Germa popover and is great for an elegant breakfast.

Dutch Baby with Blueberry Sauce

Narins says: Behold the Dutch Baby. It’s a delectable American version of a German popover that’s ideal for an elegant breakfast. No bowls needed; just a blender, a pan and a sieve for the powdered sugar. The lemon adds a welcome touch of acidity. Serves 4-6

Dutch Baby

60 ml (4 tbsp or 1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces
3 eggs, lightly beaten
250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
175 ml (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
15 ml (1 tbsp) granulated sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
30 ml (2 tbsp) confectioners’ sugar
Lemon wedges and blueberry sauce, for serving

Blueberry Sauce

1 litre (2 pints) blueberries, fresh or frozen
50 ml (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon juice

Scatter the butter into a 25-centimetre (10-inch) cast-iron skillet. Place on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 230 C (450 F).

Meanwhile, pour the eggs into a blender and blend on high until light and foamy. Remove the lid and add the milk, flour, granulated sugar, vanilla, nutmeg and salt. Blend again until all the ingredients are completely incorporated.

Remove the pan from the oven, pour in the batter, and return to the oven immediately. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden and puffy.

While the Dutch Baby cooks, make the blueberry sauce. In a non-reactive saucepan, stir together the blueberries, granulated sugar and lemon juice. Simmer until the blueberries begin to pop, about 15 minutes. Mash lightly to release more juice. Let cool.

When the Dutch Baby is done, remove from the oven and use an offset spatula to lift it onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges. Sift confectioners’ sugar over each piece and serve with lemon wedges and blueberry sauce.

Spanakopita</p>

Spanakopita

Spanakopita

This spanakopita is a variation on the classic Greek dish, with the addition of pine nuts and some sun-dried tomatoes. She says: A cast-iron pan helps crisp the phyllo in a way most other pans can’t. In this recipe the spinach doesn’t actually touch the sides of the pan, so the spinach won’t discolour or react in any way. Serves 6

750 ml (3 cups) frozen spinach, defrosted and coarsely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
50 ml (1/4 cups) pine nuts or walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
50 ml (1/4 cups) minced sun-dried tomatoes
500 ml (2 cups) crumbled feta cheese
125 ml (1/2 cups) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
125 ml (1/2 cups) minced fresh dill
1 ml (1/4 tsp) ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
75 ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
1 package phyllo dough sheets, thawed in the refrigerator

Preheat the oven to 190 C (375 F).

Squeeze out any excess moisture from the spinach.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, dill and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Stir in the spinach and season generously with pepper.

Using a pastry brush and working quickly, lightly oil one side of a phyllo sheet and lay it, oiled side down, in a 25-cm (10-inch) skillet so it comes up the sides. Repeat with three more sheets of phyllo, making sure to lay them in different directions and leaving quite a bit of overhang.

Spread the filling on the phyllo. Top with three more sheets of phyllo that have been trimmed to fit the skillet. Fold the overhanging phyllo on top and brush with additional oil.

Using a sharp knife, score the phyllo into six wedges.

Bake the spanakopita for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown. Let cool until just warm. Cut along the score marks to serve.

Brussel sprouts with bacon</p>

Brussel sprouts with bacon

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon

Narin says brussels sprouts have become less bitter and in turn more popular in the past few decades. Adding bacon to them certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Serves 4-6

2 slices bacon, cut into 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces
1 kg (about 2 lbs) Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 red onion, sliced into thick half-moons
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
Balsamic vinegar, for serving

In a 25- or 30-cm (10- or 12-inch) cast-iron skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Stir the brussels sprouts and onion in the remaining fat and add the salt. Cook over medium-low heat, turning once or twice, until just tender and browned, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the bacon.

Sprinkle the sprouts with the bacon and a dash of vinegar to serve.