I have wanted a Le Creuset dutch oven for a long time, but they are SO expensive. Like, ridiculously expensive. The dutch oven you see above would be $250 brand new. I mean, come on, people! It's just outrageous! I had checked eBay on occasion, but they still go for around $150 or so, which to me, is no bargain. I can live without one, I said to myself. And it's been fairly true. I have lived peacefully without one for years, in fact, and all was going well until a few weeks ago. It was then that I came across this recipe for a scrumptious-looking veggie stew. It looked fabulous, so I went to the store and bought all the ingredients. But then, when I went back and read the whole recipe (which, incidentally, you should always do before you go buy all the food), my world came crashing down. Step # 3 reads: Bring to a boil, stirring. Cover and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
Umm... what? No can do, Mr. Cookbook Writer. My 8-quart soup pot cannot go into the oven due to its siliconey handles (yes, I just made that word up. It's appropriate here because I don't know for sure if they are, indeed, made of silicon.) In fact, even the recipe photo shows the stew in a Le Creuset dutch oven so I figured I was in trouble. After thinking on it for a few days (I didn't have all the time in the world, you know... spoiled veggies are a sad thing), and analyzing the volume of the soup, I concluded I could probably cook the soup on the stovetop until it boiled, and then transfer it to my Pyrex casserole dish and put it in the oven to bake. Not ideal, of course, but it could work. The problem, though, is that my puny Pyrex only holds 2 quarts, and I figured this soup would be around 4 or so. Well, I guess I could split it between my 9x13 Pyrex and my round Pyrex casserole dish with a lid. That could work. So, that's what I did. While I was cooking on the stovetop, I put both my empty Pyrex dishes in the oven to warm up, and then when the stew was ready I transferred it and popped it in the oven. It turned out just fine.
I would not recommend this, though, because it was extremely hot, and I was lucky to have a husband there to help me handle the heavy pot full of boiling soup and the scalding hot glass casserole dishes. There was a lot of hot stuff being shuffled around that kitchen and I have been known to have a few kitchen accidents. I have even had one since making this soup, if you can believe that. (FYI, you can peel your finger with a potato peeler, just in case you were wondering.) Also, it's a pain later because you have to take the stew back out of the oven and stir in the beans, then return to the oven. Stirring in a casserole dish is not easy, but it's doable. My point is that it worked out okay, so you don't HAVE to have a cast iron dutch oven for this. If you don't, just do what I did, above, and make sure you have plenty of pot holders on hand.
After I made this stew, it was less than a week before I had found a good, used Le Creuset dutch oven on eBay. I got it for only 50 bucks, which I think classifies this as a screamin' deal. I can justify this, because I am cooking a LOT these days, and it's one of those invaluable kitchen tools you'll use more than you ever thought (I've only had it a week and I've used it twice already). But if you are in the market for one, there are some other, cheaper brands that carry enamel coated cast iron. I did a lot of research before I finally settled for the most expensive, but I think the Lodge brand is a close second. It's still pricey, but not nearly as much as Le Creuset, and it's American-made which is nice (Tennessee-made, in fact.) I read horrible reviews of Martha Stewart's version, which is outrageously cheap (obviously for a reason). Anyway, on to the stew!!
This stew is quite good, and perfect for a cold winter evening. I do have a couple of comments, though. The cheese triangles on top of the soup had an odd consistency to me. I think next time I'll cut back on the flour by about 1/2 cup or so. And if that doesn't work, then I'm going to try these instead. Also, about celeriac (a.k.a. celery root): I didn't have any trouble finding this at my local grocery store. It's actually quite good... it's a big knobbly-looking root that has white flesh and smells like celery. The flavor, while similar, is much milder than celery. It can be difficult to peel and chop, so plan a few extra minutes of prep if you've never dealt with one before. I think it was worth it, because it added a nice texture and slightly different flavor to the soup. But, if you're too lazy to deal with that, or if you can't find celery root, then just use regular celery instead. In fact, you can actually sub any of your favorite vegetables in this stew, as long as the total weight remains the same. Just remember that firmer veggies will need some extra time to cook, or just chop them a little smaller.
Justyn LOVED this soup. We'll definitely make it again. It makes a lot, too, so we got several meals out of it which is always a bonus.
Vegetable Hot-pot with Cheese Triangles
2 tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp mild chili powder
1 lb potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (I didn't peel mine because I wanted a "rustic" stew)
1 lb celeriac, peeled and roughly chopped (see note above)
1 3/4 cups carrots, roughly chopped
1 3/4 cups trimmed leeks, roughly chopped
3 cups brown-cap mushrooms, halved
4 tsp plain flour
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree (I used plain ol' tomato sauce)
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
14 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
springs of fresh thyme, to garnish (optional)
For the topping:
8 tbsp butter
2 cups self-rising flour (see comment above, maybe only 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp snipped fresh chives
5 tbsp milk
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole and fry the garlic and onion for 5 minutes, or until beginning to brown. Stir in the chili powder and cook for 1 more minute.
2. Add the potatoes, celeriac, carrots, leeks, and mushrooms. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.
3. Gradually stir in the stock with the tomatoes, tomato puree, thyme and seasoning. Bring to a boil, stirring. Cover and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, make the topping. Rub the butter into the flour with hands; then stir in half the cheese with the chives and add plenty of salt and pepper. Add just enough milk to make a smooth dough.
5. Roll out the dough until it is about 1 inch thick. Cut into 12 triangles and brush with milk.
6. Remove the casserole from the oven, add the beans and stir to combine. Place the triangles on top and spring with the remaining cheese. Return to the oven, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes. Serve garnished with the fresh thyme springs, if using.