Why Cast Iron and a Gluten-free Skillet Mac n’ Cheese recipe!
October Cooking Tool of the Month – Cast Iron
Why should you cook in cast iron cookware and how do you take care of it? Well I’m not saying you should but it sure makes food super tasty. You can make pretty much anything in cast iron! And you’ll absorb more iron when you cook in it making it the perfect everyday pan for vegans. Robin Abell talks more about iron absorption here. The only thing is it’s not really an oil-free way of cooking. The pan needs oil to season it. You are welcome to saute in veggie broth in a cast iron and you will get some of the iron-absorbing benefits but you will have to season it with oil often.
People have been cooking in cast iron for ions. The first cast iron artifacts date back to 5th century BC and were found in China. These were most likely used in warfare to make weapons. In the west, cast iron showed up around the 15th century and became popular for cooking pots. Meals were made on open flames or in a hearth requiring a durable pot that could take the heat, distribute it evenly and be left in a fireplace. It wasn’t until the 19th century, with the invention of the kitchen stove, that cast iron pots and skillets were made with flat bottoms.
Many cast irons skillets come pre-seasoned, but if it doesn’t you will to go through these steps to get it ready for cooking. Or you may need to season it yearly depending on how often you use your cast iron. Some people suggest seasoning your cast iron with coconut oil, some suggest flax. I guess there’s a big debate on this! Back in the day my grandma cooked bacon in her cast iron and that bacon grease is what seasoned it. No thank you.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Wash your skillet with water and mild soap (only do this when seasoning, never use soap to clean it). Thoroughly wipe the water out of the skillet with a dish towel. Place on burner and heat over high to make sure all the water is gone. Turn off flame and let cool slightly. Rub oil inside and on the outside of the skillet, being careful not to burn yourself. Don’t put too much oil; it shouldn’t be dripping off. Wipe off any excess oil with a towel. Place the skillet upside down in the oven and bake for 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave skillet in oven as it cools. Remove after a few hours and the skillet is no longer hot.
After using your skillet wash it with water and a bristle brush (no soap), then heat over a medium flame until all the water has evaporated. If it looks dry smear a thin layer of oil around the inside of the skillet.
Now time for one of my favorite things to make in a cast iron. Skillet Mac n’ Cheese! We are making this gluten-free by using brown rice flour but you can try using chickpea. I first tried it with almond meal and that was a really bad idea! The ingredients are pretty simple. First you create what’s called a roux, which will thicken the cheese sauce and make it rich and creamy. The cheese sauce is a combination of nutritional yeast, miso, tamari, mustard and vinegar, which give it a nice umami flavor reminiscent of cheese.
I used quinoa pasta but you can also use brown rice or regular pasta. I’m a BIG fan of quinoa pasta. Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta should be available at any natural food store, but if you aren’t near one I highly recommend buying it online (get the full box, because you will use it all).
For my oil-free friends you can make the roux with 1/4 cup veggie broth instead of oil. This recipe is easily doubled if you have a larger cast iron skillet or want to use a casserole dish. The recipe was made in a 8 inch cast iron skillet and serves 2 hungry people. Serve it with a side of steamed broccoli or stewed collard greens!
Gluten-free Skillet Mac n’ Cheese
Makes 2 to 3 servings
1/2 (8 ounce) box of quinoa elbows
1/2 cup pasta cooking water
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon arrowroot (dissolved in almond milk)
1 tablespoon tamari
1 teaspoon white miso
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard
Dash garlic powder
1-2 tablespoons high heat oil
2-3 tablespoons brown rice flour
Smoked paprika or breadcrumbs
Cook pasta according to package (when done drain and splash with cold water but save 1/2 cup of the cooking water for the sauce). Meanwhile whisk together the next eight ingredients until well combined and set aside.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Heat a 7 inch cast iron skillet up over high flame. When hot reduce heat to medium and add oil. Add flour to the oil and whisk it in until well coated about 20 seconds. It may be clumpy which is fine. While whisking continuously pour in the sauce you set aside earlier. Continue to whisk until the flour is well dissolved and you have a creamy cheese sauce (about 45 seconds). Fold in cooked pasta smooth over the top with spatula sprinkle smoked paprika or breadcrumbs on top and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.