Oh hey, fall. I’m so happy you’re here.
This might be jumping the gun, but I’m so excited for fall to get here – so much so that I am sitting in a bathrobe with spiced candles lit, after having just made this bean stew.
It was the perfect fall and winter dish, and I can guarantee that it’s going to happen at least a few times in my house this fall and winter.
Those of you who have known me for the past few years probably already know my feelings about summer in Washington — I pretty much just let myself waste away between June and September. Even though this summer was pretty mild, the two weeks in July of 105-degree-plus weather still make me feel a little heat struck.
But since it’s September (yayyyy!) we can start talking about the many reasons why fall is wonderful. Seasonal flavors easily make my top three — deeper palettes, heartier dishes, and earthier produce, combined with slower cooking, make for a perfect night in with a big glass of red wine and someone you enjoy spending time with — be it the love of your life, or Alexander Skarsgard (if you’re me, they’re one in the same thing).
A staple in my kitchen for winter cooking is my cast iron dutch oven.
I was first introduced to it by my dad, who purchased a cast iron dutch oven for camping trips — he was really excited about it, which was beyond my perception as a twelve-year old, but he did fashion some exquisite flavors with the dutch oven. His version sat on top of a bed of coals, and the lid itself was built so you could rest more coals on top of it, completely surrounding your meal in heat.
A bit different from the bright enameled versions that I’m obsessed with today. However, the same concept of slow cooking in cast iron exists.
The most popular luxury versions are Staub and Le Creuset, and with brands like these, it’s just too easy to spend a few hundred dollars on a gorgeous slab of iron. I’ve had my oven for about a year now, and I had every intention of splurging on a Le Creuset, but right next to the Le Creuset was a French-made cast iron oven by the name of Fontignac, in a bright blue enamel, for almost $200 less. So I bought the $99 dollar oven, and spent what I would have purchased a Le Creuset with these.
Here are two of my favorite items — someday, when I’m rich and famous, I’ll probably want to buy the entire set of this cream-colored Le Creuset oven. But if you’re a humble government worker or hill staffer, chances are, Le Creuset is a bit out of your price range. The Lodge option sans enamel is just as effective, and it’s actually more like the rustic version of dutch oven cooking.
Like anything that you pull out of the oven, you’ll need some cute oven mitts. Here are some of my picks:
Do any of you use a Dutch oven or cast iron in cooking? What are your favorites?
Braised White Beans and Leeks, adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen
2 cans cannellini beans
3 large leeks
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 stalks of celery
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 teaspoons herves de Provence (or your own mixture of herbs)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Preheat your oven to 225 degrees.
Trim your leeks, removing the green tops and the rooted ends. Slice them in half vertically, then chop them as thin as you like — I prefer larger chunks, so I kept the pieces about a half-inch to an inch in width. Rinse your leeks by putting the chopped vegetables in a large mixing bowl and then filling the bowl with water. I like to dive my hands in and clean the slices myself, making sure to rub any dirt away. Strain and let drip dry.
Slice the celery, and mince your garlic. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat, and cook the leeks, celery, and garlic until softened — about five minutes.
Add the beans, herbs, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Stir in the vegetable broth, and bring the mixture to an easy boil. With the lid on, put the entire Dutch oven in your regular oven, and let slow cook for three hours.
At that point, remove the Dutch oven from heat, and turn your oven up to 500 degrees. Evenly spread the mozzarella and Parmesan over the top of the soup, and let cook uncovered in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese bubbles.
The soup reminded me of French onion soup, so I recommend slicing sourdough or French bread to float in the soup before you add the cheeses. Either way, the bubbling and slightly burnt cheese adds a nice touch to the dish.