As you can just sort of barely tell from that shot, mine is blue. Cooks become attached to their tools. I have a deep respect for my sauté pans, my go-to All-Clad saucier, a ready-to-hand paring knife, my baking stones. But I find, considering the question here and now, that I have actual affection for only four items:
**My Global Asian chef's knife which, to my utter astonishment, sat my once beloved Sabatier down in the drawer, rarely to emerge, practically the day I got it, probably ten years ago.
**My exceedingly well-seasoned wok, a dumpster dive find from the alley between Harriet and Garfield Avenues just south of 28th Street in south Minneapolis, twenty...two...years...ago--it didn't come well-seasoned, that's what the twenty-two years have been about.
**A magnificent black cast iron skillet, low-sided and about sixteen inches across, a true heirloom that was given to Mary by a friend, Karen, because Karen knew she wouldn't ever use it, and knew we would--what generosity there.
**And my Le Creuset seven-quart dutch oven, a birthday or Christmas present from Mary in a year I do not precisely recall.
Of those four, only one has a name. It's the dutch oven; we call it "Big Blue." There are a lot of reasons that from among all the saucepans, cocottes, terrines, skillets, gratin dishes, knives and cleavers and spatulas of all kinds, from all the drawers and cupboards full of tools, this one vessel has so distinguished itself, become almost more of a family member than a pot. To wit: it is beautiful, it is venerable, it is French. It is versatile in performing many tasks, and it is indispensible in a few.
It is stock pot, confit pot, bean pot, soup pot, stew pot. It is braising vessel, best when tucked into a low oven for some slow hours filled with oxtails in Belgian beer or short ribs simmering in red wine, pork shoulder soaking up cider. It is chicken in vinegar and rabbit in mustard sauce.
Big borscht, white beans and sausage, fish chowder. Choucroute garni, moules marinière, pot au feu, boeuf à la bourguignonne, poule au pot (I did mention that it's French, didn't I?).
It is classic and comfort; the ideal vessel for a precisely calibrated cassoulet or a tossed-off soup of refrigerator miscellany.
Last night it was a variation on garbure, inspired by Sally Vincent's excellent webite Raining Sideways.
(Here I digress, abruptly, to note that I've recently added several great sites to the "We Read These" column at right. El is a former Minnesotan now living la vida local--and how--in southwestern Michigan and writing about it in fast grow the weeds ; Sylvie is "French by birth, Virginian by choice," gardening, cooking, and expressing the joie de vivre of it all at Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener ; Patrick mixes Duck Fat & Politics very appetizingly and literately down in beautiful Northfield, MN; and Amy Thielen, a familiar byline to Star Tribune readers (most recently reporting on Red Lake walleye), writes compellingly of life and food in northern Minnesota at Recipe-Phile. All well worth a bookmark, and the rest of that stuff over there, the old stuff, well that's all good, too. I'll bet they all have Le Creusets; I wonder what color theirs are...?)
Back to garbure, a hearty vegetable, bean, and meat soup that is either Basque, Béarnaise, "French country," or southwestern, depending on how the Google rolls. Ours was Saint Paul, Dunn County, Midtown Farmers' Market , and Seward co-op. It's frequently made with duck, or confit thereof, but we just used a ham hock from Hilltop Pastures Family Farm and a hunk of our own home-smoked bacon. The beans are de rigeur in a true garbure, it would seem; in our variation we subbed some sprouted wheat berries that Renée Bartz grows out in Connorsville, WI (Bolen Vale Cheese ), on the road to Bide-A-Wee.
Then the vegetables were carrots, leeks, and potatoes from our gardens, onion and garlic from the market, turnips, parnips, and cabbage from Seward, all local stuff. Simmer an hour or so. Grate some cheese (Roth Kase Wisconsin "gruyère here), and the soup-filled, cheese-topped oven-proof bowls go in for a melting--or a browning under the broiler, if you prefer.
Mary was kind of stressed yesterday about various life and work issues, and sat down to supper in a bit of a funk. After a few bites of cheesy veg, bacon and deeply delicious broth (and, yes, a couple sips of wine), she looked over at me and sort of sighed, and she said, "You know, it's gonna be all right."
Big Blue has that effect on people.
Little Bide-A-Wee spudlettes, "La Ratte," keeping well in the cellar.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw