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OBSESSION: THE POT THAT LIVES ON OUR STOVE

This small, stocky Le Creuset saucepan—complete with a lid that doubles as a skillet—should be in the design collection at the Museum of Modern Art. Not only does it perfectly balance utility and beauty, it fulfills what Paola Antonelli, senior curator, department of architecture and design at MoMA, calls her litmus test: If the object had never been designed and produced, would the world miss it, even just a bit?

A fixture in every one of my kitchens for the past 25 years, the pan currently resides on our Imperial range of equal vintage. Evaluating it in a post about the best saucepans for AOL KitchenDaily.com made me fall for this marvel of economy (on several different levels) all over again.

Because the pan is made of enamel-coated cast iron, it heats evenly, is nonreactive to acidic tomato sauces or fruit compotes, and cleans up like a dream. I use it for oatmeal or Wheatena in the morning; for heating soup or hard-cooking eggs at lunch; and for steaming vegetables or making rice, grits, or polenta in the evening. It’s a waste of time, really, to put it away.

The interior is light buff in color, so you can see how brown the butter or chopped onion is getting, and the rounded inside edge literally gives you the inside edge: Made for a whisk, it sweet-talks you into making creamed spinach or something cheesy and comforting to spoon over broccoli or cauliflower à la Barbara Pym.

(Note: You can read all about choosing the best steamer and the best whisk at KitchenDaily.com. They’re among my last equipment reviews for AOL, since there is no way I can give the company what it now wants: the same original content, the same quality, the same research, for less than one-third the money.)

Now, back to this fabulous pan, a true case of kitchen sync-opation. The cover/skillet is handy for heating up a smidgen of this or that, frying an egg for one, or for making an apple crisp for two, which is a dessert even a nonbaker can manage beautifully.

Rub some butter around in the skillet and up the side, then pile in a few layers of apple slices. (You could also use pears—they don’t have to be perfectly ripe—or, in the summer, peaches, nectarines, or plums.) If you think about it, spritz a little fresh lemon juice over the fruit for brightness. In a bowl combine a heaping 1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, a scant 1/3 cup brown sugar (less if your apples are very sweet), 1 tablespoon flour, a pinch of salt, and a dash of ground cinnamon, if so desired. Roughly chopped pecans are a very nice addition as well. With your fingers, work about 3 tablespoons butter (softened until malleable) into the oat mixture until it forms small, moist crumbles and clumps. Average prep time: five minutes.

Sprinkle the topping over the apples (it won’t completely cover the fruit) and tuck the skillet into a 400° F oven before you sit down to supper. Just as you are clearing the plates and thinking, “I really can’t eat another bite,” the crisp will be fragrant and bubbling around the edges, and you will change your mind. Since this dessert is on the homely side, you might want to gussy it up. Vanilla ice cream or heavy cream are obvious choices, but we something with tang, like a dollop of thick Greek yogurt or crème fraîche, is wonderful, too.

Because the pan is such a classic, I was taken aback when a desultory search on amazon.com and lecreuset.com failed to turn it up. After I left a message for Le Creuset customer service, I immediately stopped bashing my pan around on the stove and started treating it like a holy relic, which wasn’t nearly as much fun.

No need to enshrine it just yet. What’s now called the Two-in-One pan is sold exclusively at Sur la Table, where you’ll find it in Le Creuset’s signature Flame and Cobalt as well as in Cherry (what room doesn’t benefit from something red?), Caribbean, Cassis, and new-for-spring Fennel.

Paying $149.95 for a 2-quart pan, even a twofer, may seem exorbitant, not economical. But it will last a lifetime or two, and I can’t think of a better choice for smaller households, or for someone either just starting out or smartly downsizing. Plus, if you leave it out on the stove instead of putting it away, it will look like it belongs there. Or in a museum.

Comments

Comment from janiejaner
Time March 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Personally, I’d think of the price as “cost per use”–sounds like I’d be down below a penny in no time! (Works for extravagant fashion purchases, too.)

Comment from Cynthia A.
Time March 4, 2011 at 3:35 am

I couldn’t agree with you more about the durability and usability of enamel covered cast iron. I own a mishmosh of pieces gathered over the years from tag sales and you’re right they are treasured pieces and the workhorses of my kitchen. Yours however looks like is may never have baked a blueberry buckle. That or Sam is a really good pot scrubber!

Comment from admin
Time March 4, 2011 at 9:16 am

Oh, yum–blueberry buckle. Can’t wait for summer! And, yep, I married an awesome pot scrubber; he channels Adrian Monk.

Comment from MemeGRL
Time March 18, 2011 at 9:36 am

My mother’s vintage orange Le Creuset Dutch oven is one of my most prized kitchen items. You make me think it needs a friend! (Or two friends in one.)

Comment from MemeGRL
Time March 18, 2011 at 9:36 am

And I’m sorry to hear you won’t be with AOL anymore; I enjoyed your work there. I’ll be glad to follow you here instead.

Comment from Deborah
Time March 18, 2011 at 4:48 pm

I had been pondering purchase this pot for many years; but after reading your post I decided not to wait any more. I ordered one in cherry red :)

Pingback from Favorite Tools #1 | 50years50recipes
Time March 19, 2011 at 12:12 pm

[...] of my food styling work, but the truth is I have a bit of a collecting problem. So when I read Jane Lear’s post on her favorite pot it got me to thinking about what cooking equipment I can’t live [...]

Comment from admin
Time March 20, 2011 at 11:25 am

So glad you enjoyed that AOL column! I enjoyed writing it. You will see more about my favorite kitchen equipment here at janelear.com, so stay tuned….

Comment from admin
Time March 20, 2011 at 11:33 am

You will not be sorry–you are going to love that pot! And it’s impossible to look at that beautiful cherry red color and not feel happy….

Comment from Luisa
Time March 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Made the apple crumble tonight, in a little old Le Creuset dish I inherited from my grandmother, to use up some old apples and it was perfect. So comforting and sweet-tart. Thanks for reminding me that a Sunday night dessert is a pretty great way to end the week.

Comment from Janice Harper
Time March 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm

There’s nothing like a kitchen filled with the tools you love. I’ve shied away from Le Creuset wondering if it’s really worth the price, but you’ve done a wonderful job selling the rounded edges and the white interior – now it’s at the top of my list of toys to come!

Comment from molly
Time April 5, 2011 at 11:04 am

I picked up what I now know to be the bottom half of this duo for $2 at the Goodwill, seven years back. It is flaming orange, used weekly, and up until now, a crash-about lovely that I, like you, use weekly, if not daily.

Suddenly, I’m longing for the “lid”. And equally, feeling thrilled I scored the bottom a’tall.

Comment from admin
Time April 5, 2011 at 12:32 pm

“A crash-about lovely”! Damn–I wish I’d written that! And wow–two bucks for the bottom is a fabulous, fabulous deal.

Comment from Kary
Time May 17, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I picked up the tiny version of this on Ebay. The sauce pan is only a quart, but great for steel cut oats. I think of it as 3 pans. With the lid on, in the oven it’s a perfect dutch oven. I can make a Glorius One Pot Meal for one on the nights I’m alone. Or roast one giant stuffed pork chop. Love this pan set!

Comment from admin
Time May 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm

That’s great! How did we live without Ebay?

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