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.