Dutch Oven Goodness

Happy New Year! I think you should all know that one of the most fun parts of writing this blog for me (other than knowing you all are reading) is that I learn so much in the process.

Today, I made a favorite baked soup recipe and used my Dutch oven. In the process, I wondered, 'Why do they call it a Dutch oven?' After all, I am sure ours is not Dutch at all.

Naturally, I consulted with Markipedia, but (gasp) he had no answer for me, even though he has been to Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale, which figure prominently in the Dutch Oven’s history. I then went to his cousin, Wikipedia, and found my answer.

"During the late 17th century, the Dutch system of producing these cast metal cooking vessels was more advanced than the English system. The Dutch used dry sand to make their molds, giving their pots a smoother surface. Consequently, metal cooking vessels produced in the Netherlands were imported into Britain. In 1704, an Englishman named Abraham Darby decided to go to the Netherlands to observe the Dutch system for making these cooking vessels. Four years later, back in England, Darby patented a casting procedure similar to the Dutch process and began to produce cast-metal cooking vessels [in Coalbrookdale] for Britain and her new American colonies. The use of the term “Dutch oven” has endured for over 300 years, since at least 1710." (Wikipedia)

These days, many lidded pots (including our Copco pot) are called Dutch ovens, even though they don't replicate the original design, with short little legs on the bottom for standing over embers, and a raised lip on the lid for covering the lid with embers, for baking with both bottom and top heat.

We use our Dutch oven for many things - this no-knead bread recipe, and many soups and stews. Today's soup works especially well in this size pan. You don't want too large a pot, as you need some depth for layering.

This recipe is one of those non-recipes that we got from La Cucina Italiana many years ago. I say "non-recipe" because it had some basic instructions (with pictures) but no real measurements or specifics. It is a folk recipe, pretty traditional in several regions of Italy, and like most folk recipes you add "some of this, and some of that..."

Cabbages: I have tried it with different cabbages, but have decided that Savoy is my favorite kind. Napa also work, but doesn't hold up as well. I haven't tried Brussels sprouts yet, but I think they would be too strong.

Cheeses: I use Gruyère and Fontina, but you could use any good melting cheeses -Swiss, havarti (dill havarti would be good!), Monterey Jack, etc.

Meats: pancetta and prosciutto were my choices for meat in this soup, but regular bacon, and sliced ham could work. Note that the smokiness of American bacon will really change the flavor - not necessarily a bad thing. Vegetarians can, of course, substitute tempeh or tofu.

Bread: the bread needs to be really hearty. Don't trust your run-of-the-mill grocery store to have an appropriate bread. Use one that is really dense and won't turn to mush when the broth is added. Stout and dark German breads are perfect for this soup.

Broth: I used a light chicken broth, but the choice is yours - chicken, beef, veal, or vegetable. The important thing is to use low-sodium broth because there is so much salt in the meats and cheeses. Too much salt will spoil your soup.

So, that's it: one of our absolute favorite winter dishes, to be enjoyed on a cold night or gray afternoon in front of a crackling fire. As with many of my recipes, it is simple, authentic, and flavorful.


~ David

Baked Cabbage Soup

1/2 cup diced pancetta
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups chopped Savoy cabbage (1/2 a large head)
4-6 slices (3/4-inch thick) very hard multigrain bread
4 slices prosciutto, torn
4 ounces Gruyère, sliced in strips
4 ounces Fontina, sliced in strips
4 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a Dutch oven, sauté the pancetta in olive oil until it is slightly crisp. Add the chopped cabbage and sauté until wilted. Remove cabbage and pancetta from pot and set aside.

Cut as many slices of bread as you need to cover the bottom of the Dutch oven. Toast them well and line the bottom of the pot with them. You may need to cut them onto odd-shaped pieces to fit well.

Add cabbage and pancetta back to the pot on top of bread. Divide torn pieces of prosciutto over top, then cover with the strips of Gruyère and Fontina cheeses.

Pour chicken stock over top and bake, covered, for 40 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to bake for 20 minutes more.

Serve immediately.

Makes 4 main course servings.

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