Your grandmother probably swore by her cast iron skillet. Like many a cook before her, she knew that cast iron is a great cooking surface, but that hasn’t always been a fashionable opinion. Cookware trends have waxed and waned since your grandmother’s day, but lately cast iron has become hip again. And for good reason—cast iron skillet cooking is easy, safe, and good for you, too.
The Other Nonstick Cookware
One of the best things about cast iron cookware is that, when properly seasoned, it provides a nonstick surface with no danger of toxic chemicals leaching into your food or the air you breathe. You can even use metal utensils without worrying about the nonstick surface flaking off. That’s because the seasoning process—in which you coat the pan with oil and heat it—actually transforms the surface of the pan, bonding it with the oil to create a nearly impenetrable, smooth surface.
Perfect for Vegetarians
People think of cast iron as a great surface for cooking meat, but that isn’t all it can do. It’s fantastic for cooking vegetables, fruits, eggs, and even breads, pastries, and desserts.
Vegetarians, who may not get enough iron from their meat-free diets, can boost their iron intake by cooking in cast iron. A Journal of the American Dietetic Association study found that cooking spaghetti sauce in a cast iron skillet boosted the dish’s iron content nearly tenfold. Cooking in a cast iron skillet can act as a veritable iron supplement.
Cast-Iron Skillet Farinata—a Grain-Free Pizza Crust Alternative
Farinata is a thick pancake made from chickpea flour and layered with savory toppings. It’s a delicious and easy-to-make grain-free pizza alternative and a great example of a vegetarian dish that works especially well cooked in a cast iron skillet.
The Italians cook farinata in copper pans in very hot wood-burning ovens. Your home oven probably doesn’t reach 900ºF, so a cast iron skillet comes in handy. Because of its superior heat conduction abilities, the skillet acts like a baking stone, getting very, very hot and retaining that heat. The result is a delightfully crisp crust that is a perfect base for all of your favorite pizza toppings. Depending on what toppings you choose, it can easily be made vegetarian, vegan, or dairy-free.
Farinata with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Onions, and Goat Cheese
Serves 4 / Prep time: 10 minutes / Cook time: 55 minutes
Farinata is a delicious, grain-free pizza alternative. Roasting the tomatoes and onions in the skillet (before cooking the farinata crust) caramelizes them beautifully, making a flavorful topping. This recipe is excerpted from my book Home Skillet: The Essential Cast-Iron Cookbook for Easy One-Pan Meals.
¾ cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus a pinch
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 ounces fresh goat cheese
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- In a medium bowl, combine the chickpea flour with the water, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the rosemary, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper and whisk until well combined. Set aside to rest for 30 minutes.
- While the batter is resting, combine the tomatoes, onion, crushed red pepper, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and toss to coat the vegetables with the oil. Spread the vegetables out in a single layer and roast for 20 minutes, stirring once. Transfer the mixture to a bowl or plate and wipe out the skillet.
- Increase the oven heat to 500ºF (or as hot as your oven goes). Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil to the skillet and swirl to coat the bottom. Give the batter a stir and pour it into the skillet. Bake for 20 minutes. Top the chickpea cake with the onion and tomato mixture and crumble the goat cheese over the top. Bake for 12 more minutes, until the center of chickpea cake is set. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. To serve, cut into wedges.
The Author: Robin Donovan is a food writer and recipe developer. She has written numerous cookbooks including Home Skillet: The Essential Cast Iron Cookbook for Easy One-Pan Meals and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine: Gourmet Recipes for the Great Outdoors. She blogs about super easy recipes for surprisingly delicious meals at TwoLazyGourmets.com.