Bean-hole Beans: The Traditional Way to Bake Beans in the Ground
Not your everyday kind of baked beans, but if you’re ever in the mood to dig a hole and light a fire, or if you happen to already be roasting a pig in a pit, grab your Le Creuset French oven and bury it.
½ lb navy beans, sorted and soaked overnight in plenty of water, in the fridge
1- 14 fl oz tin of crushed tomatoes
2½ Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp molasses
4 Tbsp brown sugar or maple syrup
1 bottle dark beer
½ c water or vegetable broth
½ tsp salt (to taste)
1 Tbsp cumin powder
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 ¼ tsp chili powder
Directions for Making the Baked Beans
After soaking beans overnight, drain the water from the beans and set aside.
In the Le Creuset French oven, add the remaining ingredients and stir until well incorporated. Add the beans into the sauce and stir.
Put the lid on and put one or two sheets of aluminium foil over the top. This will serve you well when it comes time to unearth the pot and things start to jiggle. The foil will prevent dirt from accidentally falling in as you dig out the pot.
Directions for Digging the Pit
Dig a pit in the ground that’s suitable for making a fire (i.e. in an open area far away enough from structures). The pit needs to be wide and deep enough to fit the pot comfortably; don’t forget the pit will be lined with rocks so take that into consideration when you think you’ve finished digging.
Line the bottom and sides with rocks or bricks. Build a fire in the bottom and let it burn as long as you can, hours if possible. You are essentially heating up the surrounding materials, so the hotter the fire and the longer it burns, the hotter the earth oven will be.
As the fire’s burning, consider making a simple handle for the Le Creuset pot that will allow you to lower it (and later lift it out) without getting too close to the hot stones. I made a crude (but effective!) handle from a couple of wire coat hangers.
When the flames have died down and you’re left with hot coals, the pit’s ready. Lower the pot, bury it with soil. Walk away.
Let it go for 8 hours or more if you can. It’s an understatement to say this is a wildly imprecise method of cooking. The good news is that if your beans aren’t done in the earth oven, you can always pop them in the regular oven (325°F, covered) to finish up.
Pretty to look at, fun to eat and surprisingly easy to make, soufflés can actually be made in your Le Creuset round French oven. The 3.3 L size pot is also about twice the volume of a typical soufflé dish so this makes plenty – perfect for a large brunch. This recipe is largely based on Julia Child’s classic cheese soufflé recipe in, The Way to Cook.
45 mL (3 tbsp) finely grated Parmesan cheese
525 mL (2 cups + 5 tsps) whole milk
90 mL (6 tbsp) unsalted butter + plus extra for buttering dish
115 mL (7 tbsp) all-purpose flour
5 mL (1 tsp) table salt
0.62 mL (1/8 tsp) ground nutmeg
9 large egg yolks
12 large egg whites
475 mL (2 cups) shredded aged cheddar cheese
125-250 mL (½-1 cup) thinly sliced scallions (to taste)
Move the oven rack to the lower third position and pre-heat to 400°F.
Butter the French oven, making sure to cover all sides and the bottom. Add the Parmesan cheese and shake the pot to coat the bottom evenly. Then tilt the pot, rotating it while you continue gently shaking, to get the cheese distributed along the sides. Pop this in the fridge.
Warm the milk on med-low heat until it’s just steaming. In a separate pot, melt the butter over medium heat, then whisk in the flour, creating a roux. Cook this gently for a few minutes until all lumps are gone (but do not brown). Gently add the warm milk in batches, whisking after each addition.
Continue whisking for another 4-5 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in the salt and nutmeg. Let it rest off-heat for a few minutes.
Add the egg yolks, one at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition. Transfer the egg yolk base to a large bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form a stiff peak. Careful not to overbeat or they’ll get dry and break down – there’s no recovering from this.
Scoop ¼ of the egg whites and gently fold them into the lukewarm egg yolk base with a large spatula. Try not to crush the bubbles. Continue folding until most (but not all) the egg whites have been incorporated (To fold: Slightly tilt the bowl, hold the spatula with the blade at the top facing vertically and “cut” down the middle of the batter, reaching the bottom end of the bowl. Use the flat side of the paddle to scrape along the side of the bowl to lift the batter and let it fold over on itself. Rotate the bowl 45° and repeat.)
Add in the cheese and scallions. Fold a few more times to distribute.
Add another ¼ of the egg whites. Fold. Repeat with the remaining ¼ portions until everything has been incorporated, using as few strokes as possible.
Remove prepared French oven from the fridge and pour the soufflé mixture in. Place immediately into the oven and reduce the temperature to 375°F.
Bake for 50-60 minutes until the soufflé is puffed up high (above the rim of the French oven pot) and is golden brown on top. You’ll know it’s ready when you jiggle the pot and the centre moves a little bit, while the edges remain stable. Serve immediately.
Note: Do not open the oven door during the first 20 minutes of baking.
Caramelized Onions for French Onion Soup
The first step in creating really good French onion soup is making caramelized onions – lots and lots of them. This is normally a time-consuming labour of love, but in a Le Creuset French oven, it’s a cinch. Caramelizing enough onions for a pot of soup is normally daunting. But in your French oven, you can actually caramelize them in the oven.
Note: You’ll need to replace the original phenolic knob with a stainless steel one.
60 mL (¼ cup) vegetable oil
6 large yellow onions (about 5 lbs) (If you’re making the soup, avoid sweet onions like Walla Walla, whose sweetness is concentrated once caramelized and doesn’t work well with the soup. But if you’re just making caramelized onions, these are a great option.)
15 mL (1 tbsp) salt
120 mL (½ cup) dry sherry
475 mL (2 cups) water
1420 mL (6 cups) broth (As a vegetarian, I used a combination of vegetable and mushroom stocks. However, a chicken (4 c) and beef (2 c) broth combination works very well.)
1 bay leaf
1 small baguette, cut into ½” slices and toasted
235 mL (8 oz) of shredded Gruyère cheese
Adjust oven rack to lower third position and pre-heat to 400°F.
Trim the ends off each onion, then slice in half from top to bottom. Place each half, cut-side down, and cut from pole to pole into ¼” slices. Try to keep the slices uniform in size to ensure even cooking.
Toss the onion slices with the oil and salt. The salt will help draw out moisture during the caramelising process. Place all the onion slices into the pot. It’s a lot of onion and they may mound up at the top, but place the lid on and have faith that they’ll reduce significantly.
Place the pot in the oven for one hour. After the first hour, take the pot out of the oven and carefully take the lid off. Take your time scraping the onions loosening any that have started to stick to the bottom and sides. Return back to the oven without the lid.
At 15 minute intervals, give the onions a stir, scraping the bottom and sides. You’ll see the onions slowly start to brown now. Continue this for another 1 – 1.5 hours until the onions have reached the level of caramelisation you desire. Take the pot out when they’re deep dark golden in colour. If you’re making the soup, don’t be afraid to take them a shade darker.
At this point you’re going to switch to working on the stove. Turn a burner on medium heat and place your pot on it. Keep the oven on (you’ll need it in a few steps down to toast the baguette slices).
You should have a nice dark layer of fond on the bottom and sides of your pot. These darkened bits are full of flavour so to incorporate the fond back into the onions, add the hot water to deglaze the pot.
Gently stir the water and onions with a wooden spoon, scraping as much of the fond off as possible.
Once all the fond has been deglazed, add the bay leaf and the stock and bring it all to a boil. Reduce heat, put the lid on and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf before portioning out.
As the soup is simmering, prepare your finishing touches. Cut the baguette into ½” slices and arrange on a baking sheet and pop It in the oven for about 10 minutes until they’re toasty crisp and golden brown on the edges. Put aside.
Adjust the oven rack to the top third position and pre-heat the broiler.
Place six oven-safe terrines on a rimmed cookie sheet and fill each one about ¾ full of soup. Float one or two crisp baguette toasts on top and mound with a generous amount of Gruyère.
Slide the cookie sheet under the broiler until the cheese bubbles and browns, around 3-5 minutes.
Baked Pasta… Freestyle
The recipe below reflects what I found in my pantry, but you can basically use any combination of vegetables, tinned tomatoes and pasta that you have on hand. Follow it if you like a salty, briny Puttanesca-like pasta dish, but don’t hesitate to change it up. The beauty of this dish is that it’s meant to use up whatever you’ve already got in your fridge and pantry.
Note: You’ll need to replace the original phenolic knob with a stainless steel one.
½ lb (8 oz) dried small-shape pasta (ex: penne, fusilli, rotini, etc.)
830 mL (1-28 fl oz tin) diced or crushed tomatoes
560 mL (1-19 fl oz tin) chick peas, drained and rinsed
Hot water (optional, just enough to adjust the consistency of the sauce)
15 mL (1 tbsp) oil
Kale, one bunch, washed
250 mL (1 cup) pitted Kalamata olives
2-3 anchovy fillets (these essentially disintegrate during the cooking process, adding a vaguely “meaty” and hearty flavour to the sauce)
Salt and pepper to taste
15 mL (1 tbsp) dried oregano
15 mL (1 tbsp) dried rosemary
5 mL (1 tsp) chili flakes
Pre-heat oven to 450°C.
Heat the Le Creuset pot on medium heat on stove. As the pot is warming up, rough chop the onions and kale. Keep separated and set aside.
Add oil to the pot. When hot, add the onion and sauté until lightly browned. Browning vegetables first helps caramelize them, bringing out more intense and complex flavours.
Add the oregano, rosemary and chili flakes and continue cooking for a few minutes until things get fragrant. Add the kale and stir for a minute.
Add in remaining ingredients (olives, chick peas, tin of tomatoes. Bring the sauce to a boil (about 10 minutes).
Taste the sauce and adjust any seasonings at this point. Since the olives and anchovy fillets bring in a lot of briny saltiness, I only added a bit more salt. Depending on what you decide to use, you may need to add a few tsps of salt.
Add in the dried pasta and stir. There should be enough sauce to comfortably blanket all the pasta. Any pasta that’s poking above the sauce-line won’t cook. If you feel there’s not enough liquid, add some hot water until a good level is reached. Note: don’t exceed 2/3 capacity of the pot, as this pasta dish will expand!
8. Put the lid on the pot and place it in the oven for 30 minutes.
9. Remove from the oven and give it a good stir to make sure any sauce at the bottom gets distributed. At this point it’s ready to serve, but if you want a little bubbly cheese on top, now’s the time to do it: Turn on the broiler and after stirring the pasta, sprinkle on some shredded or cubed Mozzarella and place the pot back in the oven without the lid. Wait until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned before removing.
Note: If you choose to include a vegetable less hardy than kale, such as broccoli, asparagus, spinach, or even Swiss Chard, cook it separately and put it aside. Then once the pasta is done, stir in the vegetables.
No-knead Bread: Artisanal Bakery-style Bread at Home
The reason why this bread recipe works so well in the Le Creuset French oven is because the tight-fitting lid traps in all the moisture from the dough, mimicking bakery ovens that inject steam into their ovens. The heavy cast iron also absorbs a lot of heat, which helps reach those high temperatures that bakeries rely on. For this recipe you’ll need to crank up your oven to 500°F and let your Le Creuset pre-heat in there for at least half an hour. You’ll also need to replace the phenolic knob that came with your French oven, as it’s only oven-safe to 375°F (190°C). Any metal knob from the hardware store will do, although you can certainly replace it with the official Le Creuset stainless steel knob.
This recipe has circulated widely ever since being published in The New York Times in 2006. In it, Mark Bittman shares Jim Lahey’s (of the Sullilvan Street Bakery) recipe for this magical, no-knead, no-fuss bread.
Note: You’ll need to replace the original phenolic knob with a stainless steel one.
710 mL (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1.25 mL (¼ tsp) instant yeast
6.25 mL (1¼ tsp) salt
125 mL (½ c) beer
250 mL (1 c) very warm water
15 mL (1 tbsp) white vinegar
In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (first three items). Then add all the wet ingredients (last three items) and stir until blended. Dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rest 12-18 hours, preferably in a warm spot.
Before working with the dough again, prepare a parchment paper sling. Place a sheet a parchment paper in a skillet or shallow bowl. Oil generously with olive oil. Set aside.
The dough is ready for the next step when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough on it. Sprinkle the top with a little more flour and then fold it over on itself 4-8 times, rotating each time so that the dough is evenly worked on. Place the dough on the parchment sling so it’s nestled in the skillet/bowl. Cover it with plastic and let it rest for two more hours.
When the dough is ready to be baked, it will have doubled in size and will not spring back quickly when poked. Before placing it in the Le Creuset French oven, use a sharp Chef’s knife to makes several slits across the top of the dough.
30-60 minutes before you’re ready to bake, adjust the oven rack to the lower third position, place the Le Creuset pot with the lid on inside, and pre-heat the oven to 500° F.
When the dough is ready, carefully bring the pot out, remove the lid, and use the parchment sling to gently lower the dough into the pot (including the parchment paper). Return to the oven and lower the temperature to 425°C.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking for another 15-30 minutes until the crust is a deep golden colour.
Remove the pot from the oven and use the sling to pull the bread out from the pot, but be careful as the parchment paper will be very brittle now. Cool the bread on a rack and try to wait at least an hour before slicing.
Cold Oil French Fries
Yes, you can actually achieve deep-fried french fries without a deep fryer and by starting off with cold oil. This can only be done with a vessel like Le Creuset’s French oven. Don’t even think about trying this with a thin or poorly constructed pot. Follow the detailed instructions precisely and you can start having french fries at home. Be forewarned: this recipe is dead easy and rather addictive.
Coil Oil Cooking is a technique credited to Chef Joël Robuchon, widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential modern chefs. This is the best way to make french fries at home because the fries cook gradually, allowing the insides to cook thoroughly and become fluffy while allowing the exterior to develop that satisfyingly crispy, crunchy shell. And since you’re starting off in cold oil, there’s no messy splattering, very minimal odour, and this method uses less oil than traditional deep frying.
Vegetable oil (just enough to cover the potatoes by about an inch in the pot)
Potatoes (I used Russets, because it’s trickier and I wanted to explain how to deal with the extra starch, but this also works well less starchy potatoes like Yukon Golds.) Estimate one large potato per person.
Wash potatoes. “Square” them by cutting off a thin slice off four sides, then the two at either end (you’ll have a rounded rectangle). It’s fine to leave some of the skin on. You just want to create a stable shape that will allow you to continue cutting the potato accurately.
Cut ¼” – 3/8” planks. Then stack a few planks and cut again into ¼” - 3/8” matchsticks. Repeat until all planks have been cut into sticks. It’s important to create pieces that are of uniform size so that they’ll all cook at the same rate.
If you’re using Russet potatoes, rinse them in very cold water and then soak for a few hours or even overnight. You want to draw out the extra starch. If you’re using another kind of non-starchy potato, just rinse (no need to soak).
Pat dry the matchsticks well with paper towels. You need the potatoes to be as dry as possible before frying. Spread them out on a wire rack to continue drying. Optional: Before spreading them out, you can toss a bit of cornstarch with them to help speed the drying.
When they’re dry, place in your Le Creuset French oven.
Pour enough vegetable oil to cover the potatoes, but try not to go much higher than halfway up the pot. Remember, the oil will bubble and boil (but never splatter, don’t worry).
Turn the heat on. With my electric KitchenAid stovetop, I needed to crank it all the way to high before this worked. I suspect if you have a gas range or a better stove, you can get away with lower heat, which is what I actually recommend when trying this for the first time. Start at med-high.
IMPORTANT: Do not touch the fries for the first 15 minutes. Definitely keep an eye on the pot, but don’t be tempted to poke around in there. During this time as everything’s warming up and the potatoes are cooking, they’ll be very fragile. If you stir them, you’ll most likely break them.
After 15 minutes, the oil should be bubbling away gently. Go in with tongs or a spider and gently swish the fries around, making sure to scrape any that have started to stick to the bottom. Repeat at five minute intervals.
They should be done in another 15 minutes (total cooking time: 30 minutes). They’ll start to brown very quickly in the last five minutes so keep an eye on them.
Gently remove the fries from the pot with a slotted spoon or spider and drain on paper towels.
Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately!
Note: Remember, this only works with cold oil, so you can’t make a follow-up batch with the same oil until it’s cooled down. Make enough for everyone in the first batch!
Note: You can definitely add bacon grease to the oil if you want, but you won’t be able to reuse the oil as frequently because it goes off.
Baked Lemon Parmesan Risotto
The lemony colour of the Soleil French oven inspired this lemon risotto, which comes out fresh and bright. But you could easily adapt this to make a luscious mushroom risotto; just use this recipe as a base and get creative.
3-4 shallots, minced
15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil
Zest from one lemon
Fresh juice from one lemon
2.5 mL (½ tsp) dried thyme
1250 mL (5½ cups) heated vegetable broth (plus ½ c reserve)
225 mL (1 cup) frozen peas
500 (2 cups) Arborio rice
225 mL (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese (divided, ½c + ½c ) (plus extra for topping)
Finely minced basil (for topping)
Pepper to taste
Move the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat to 350°F. (Placing it lower in the oven enhances the “low and slow” technique, a cooking method that’s particularly gentle and ideal for this type of delicate dish.)
Warm the stock on a back burner and keep it lidded and warm until needed.
Using a microplane, zest the lemon. If you don’t have a microplane, use a grater to gently remove only the outer skin (avoid the white, bitter pith); then chop finely with a knife. Set aside.
Juice the lemon and set aside.
On the stove, heat the 3.3 L Le Creuset French oven on med heat. Add oil.
When oil is hot, add shallots and stir until translucent and fragrant, about three to five minutes.
Add risotto and stir until all the oil has been absorbed and the rice becomes toasty hot. About five minutes.
Add thyme, pepper, ½c of Parmesan cheese and broth. Stir to incorporate and thoroughly heat everything. Turn off stove.
Put lid on and gently transfer to the oven. Total cooking time is around 40 minutes.
After the first 20 minutes, uncover and stir making sure to reach the bottom and all sides of the pot. Put lid back on and return to oven.
At 40 minutes, if the rice is still a bit crunchy, stir in the reserve broth and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
When it’s done, the risotto will be thick and creamy. Remove from the oven and gently stir in the peas (they’ll heat up quickly in the risotto, don’t worry), lemon zest, lemon juice to taste (start with 2Tbsp) and remaining grated Parmesan cheese. Depending on the acidity level of your lemon juice, you may want to add more.
When serving, top with additional shaved or grated Parmesan cheese, extra lemon zest, and some finely minced fresh basil.
Note: Keep a bit of warm broth on hand to thin out the risotto after the first serving, as it will continue to thicken as it sits.
Serves six generously.
This classic enamelled cast iron pot just may be the most versatile piece of cookery in your kitchen
Le Creuset is perfect for the “low and slow” cooking method, but it’s actually also brilliant for everyday dishes, making it possibly the most versatile piece of cookery in your kitchen. After experimenting with a Le Creuset 3.3L round French oven for months, I’ve discovered that with a little adaption this heavy cast iron pot is surprisingly nimble at tackling a lot of favourite standbys.
There are already thousands of reliable and delicious recipes that are geared for the inherent strengths of a French oven, focusing on browning, braising and simmering. The recipes and techniques presented here differ in that they deviate from the obvious stews, soups and braises. Try a pasta dish, or risotto or even a soufflé. Really.
All recipes are based on using a 3.3 L (3.5 Qt) round French oven, so if you happen to have a larger or smaller one, adapt accordingly. This size turned out to be amazingly versatile. It may look deceptively small (and initially I was worried it wouldn’t be large enough), but it was the perfect size and always made enough food for at least six hungry diners.
Le Creuset is available in flagship stores in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, as well as in fine kitchen stores including The Gourmet Warehouse and The Bay. 3.3 L, $270.
Special thanks to Lisa J and her awesome landlord for their pit-building skills.
Catherine is a lifestyle writer, specializing in travel, style, food and beauty. You can read more of her work in WestWorld, Real Weddings, AsiaSpa, Darpan, Wine Enthusiast and others. Follow her on social (Instagram, Snapchat & Twitter) @TSEwords.