Christmas Le Creuset gratin pan

vintage Flame Le Creuset gratin pan

My good friend and roommate, Jeff, gives the best gifts: my chef's knife, my vintage Cuisinart food processor, my red frying pan, my green Dutch oven, my smaller black Dutch oven, and this Christmas a big (36 cm), shallow vintage Le Creuset enameled cast-iron gratin casserole dish. He says he found it on eBay one day at 3 AM, made a bid, went to bed, and woke up as the winner. When the heavy package arrived this month, I asked teasingly if he'd gotten me a Le Creuset gratin dish, and he said, "Hell, no. They're too expensive." He lied, leaving me gleefully surprised when I opened the box.

He must have grown tired of me begging him for one of the two Le Creuset gratin dishes he'd found at thrift stores for himself, a 32 cm white one and a 28 cm Flame one. His white one cost just seven dollars (!) because some Goodwill employee hadn't recognized what it was, the brand imprint being faint on the bottom enamel. This new (old) gratin dish in Le Creuset's traditional 'Flame' color is bigger than either of his. I was sure he'd keep the largest one and give me one of his smaller ones, but nope: I get to keep the big one. And just one of these dishes is all I need.

vintage Le Creuset gratin pan in "Flame" (bottom view)

Le Creuset doesn't make this classic style of handled cast-iron oval gratin dishes anymore, only their Signature oval bakers with cut-out handles or stoneware ones made in Thailand or China. But the cast-iron low-profile ovals made in France are perfect for roasting vegetables, my favorite way to eat Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. And the 36 cm size should hold a whole head of cauliflower pieces or a big batch of halved Brussels sprouts. Thickly sliced mushrooms are also wonderful roasted with garlic and a little wine or wine vinegar and herbs. These types of roasted veggies taste fabulous atop baked polenta or tossed with garlic, olive oil, and a grated hard cheese into cooked whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, or pearl barley.

Baking dishes like these can be found secondhand on eBay at a fraction of their new retail price. If you're extremely lucky, you might find one someday at a local thrift store for even less. For roasting, the even heat and ease of cleaning of French enameled cast-iron can't be beat. And what a lovely way to cook through the cold winter months. . . .

(Thank you, Jeffrey! xo)

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