Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Well Seasoned Pan


A well seasoned cast-iron pan is a thing of beauty. Like a treasured sourdough starter, each skillet requires tending to achieve the patina of oils that seal the surface to perfect smoothness. My Father's pans are the stuff of legend, jet black with decades of lovingly wiped and scorched grease - only ever briefly meeting water, lest the spell be broken. Every Sunday he sets a couple of them on the Aga and makes pancakes in place of the more traditional roast, greasing the pan with a paper towel neatly folded and clothes peg clamped. With complete concentration, he bends, pours, swirls, tosses and slides the pancake onto a growing stack, wiping each gleaming pan as he sets it back on the heat and begins again. There is worship and meditation in the ritual, watching it fills me with a huge sense of well being. If there are seasoned pans and pancakes, then all must be right with the world.

I found my own cast iron pans whilst rootling idly through a rural car boot sale, when Finn was no more than a tiny seed waiting for spring. The pans were tossed carelessly into a dirty cardboard box, cobweb strewn and  smudged with rust - to the un-initiated they looked like nothing. I however, beheld in them the future heirlooms of our yet to be built kitchen. So they were snapped up for nothing and hurried home to be scoured, salted, scorched and oiled, oiled, oiled, until they shone like obsidian.

With a couple of camping recipes to write, I thought I would use my wonderful pans and make something a little different from the standard campfire stew. Always looking for a chance to eat outside, we had been hoping to nestle those pans into the embers of a crackling campfire whilst our sheepskins beckoned from the tent. Yet, every time we planned to camp, or even barbeque, it rained. After a sun soaked June - July was unremittingly damp and grey. Finn and I sat with our chins in our hands and pouted our lips a bit and then got on with rainy day stuff - business that didn't need a campfire to be fun.



Eventually I realised that I was going to miss the deadline for these campfire dishes, if I held off any longer and so I made mine on the stove in the dry kitchen. But they can be made on the campfire if you're blessed with lovely weather. I used an 8" skillet for a courgette tortilla and a 6" skillet for a hazelnut and apple puddingcake. When the weather turns fine, I'll do it all again for real.

Courgette Tortilla serves 3-4 



1 large brown skinned onion chopped roughly
2 large or 4 small courgettes peeled and diced
6 large free range eggs
pinch sea salt
Duck fat - or bacon grease

Heat a heaped teaspoon in an 8" cast iron skillet (or similar) and add the onion, frying gently until translucent.

Add courgette and stir to coat, fry gently until this is just cooked through.

Place the hot vegetables in a large mixing bowl and set aside for a minute. Set the pan back on the heat - add a little fat if it looks dry.

Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and stir into the hot vegetables, beating quickly, and pour them straight back into the pan, shaking a little.

Cook gently for about 8-10 minutes without disturbing until the sides have set but the top is still runny. Then the tricky bit!

With a butter knife ease the edges of the tortilla away from the pan a little, all the way around. Place a plate on top of the pan that covers it entirely and a little extra - the flatter the better. Using a cloth to protect your hands, grasp the plate and pan with both hands and invert the tortilla onto the plate. Set it down and give the pan a tap to loosen.

Set the empty pan back on the heat, and slide the tortilla back into the pan with one swift (and hopefully successful) movement. Push the edges underneath to seal (with a butter knife) and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Then invert again onto a fresh (or washed) plate and leave to cool for about 10 minutes - or eat cold.

You can omit the inverting bit and finish the tortilla under a grill, but this is the authentic Spanish method and it makes a lovely clean edge.


Hazelnut and Apple Puddingcake
serves 4-6


I used this recipe and just added another egg, left out the banana and lay a couple of peeled apples in some melted butter at the bottom of the pan to avoid the burnt crust that can occur. I also separated the eggs and beat the whites, folding them in at the end - but this isn't really practical when you're camping, so use baking powder It's quite magical to have a cakey pudding when you're under canvas. You might even find some local cream to pour over it!

If you would like to take part this month, send your entry to Shirley at: glutenfreeeasily@gmail.com by the 28th July and she will post the round up here at the end of the month.