A versatile Dutch oven allows you to prepare an entire meal in one pot or to make a side dish, dessert or the protein portion of your meal. Traditional Dutch ovens are made from cast iron or enameled cast iron and can range in size from 2 quarts to more than 9 quarts. Many cookware sets include Dutch ovens made from stainless steel or aluminum. A Dutch oven allows fuss-free cooking. Simply fill it with the ingredients and place it in the oven. Because you cook with the lid on, foods retain juices and turn out moist and tender.
Soups and Stews
Any soup or stew that you would make in a normal sauce pan or stock pot, you can prepare in a Dutch oven. One benefit of making soup or stew in a Dutch oven is that the material, especially if it is cast iron, retains heat and heats evenly, so you can take the entire Dutch oven off of the stove and bring it to the table to serve. To prepare a soup or stew, brown the meat in the Dutch oven first in a small amount of oil, then add the vegetables and stock or water and bring to a simmer. Stir in dry salad dressing and seasoning mix for a fast and easy way to add flavor to the dish.
Grain Based Meals
A Dutch oven also works for preparing grain-centered meals such as paella, jambalaya and hoppin' John. You don't need to buy a single-use paella pan. Brown the meat for the paella first in the Dutch oven, then wipe the pan clean. Saute the vegetables and add the rice and fry a bit. Add the liquid, meat and dry seasoning mix and stir to cook the rice evenly. To make other grain dishes, simply add the ingredients to the Dutch oven and simmer until the grain is cooked through. Stir in dry dressing and seasoning mix and let it simmer with the grain for a zesty side dish.
Chili and baked beans are a snap to prepare in a Dutch oven. Since the pan can go from the stove top to the oven, you can start the baked beans on the stove by sauteing the vegetables and pork, if using, then add the beans and cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. When the beans have absorbed some of the liquid, you can simply slide the entire Dutch oven into your regular oven. A Dutch oven heats evenly, making it ideal for cooking chili. Add your favorite chili ingredients, using a spicy dry dressing and seasoning mix, and let the chili simmer over low heat on the stovetop or in the oven.
Vegetable and Pasta Meals
A Dutch oven is also a great way to prepare ratatouille and similar vegetable-laden meals. Saute vegetables such as onion, pepper, summer squash and eggplant in the Dutch oven, then add tomato sauce and season with dry salad dressing mix. Use a Dutch oven as a time-saving way to make baked pasta casseroles, too. Prepare the sauce for the casserole in the Dutch oven -- a cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese or a tomato sauce for a baked pasta dish -- then add the cooked pasta and bake in the oven. Sprinkle dry ranch dressing mix over your casserole to give it extra zip.