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Ever so humble, my smallish (8-inch) cast iron skillet is my favorite pan. It sits on the stove at the ready, the perfect size when cooking for two.

This pan makes less of a mess than my 10-incher, plus it's lighter, so easy to lift and clean. The cast iron ensures even heat distribution and guarantees this pan will outlive me. Note that newly purchased cast iron pans must first be seasoned before cooking, but there is plenty of information about how to do so online. (I've also had great luck with the preseasoned pans.)

These pans are perfect for searing steak or pork chops before finishing them in the oven, or for baking cornbread with a crisp, golden crust.

When it comes to vegetables, I use this skillet to roast them on the stovetop instead of a large sheet pan in a hot oven. This technique speeds up the process, by first "butter steaming" the vegetables in a little butter or oil, then finishing them off over higher heat to brown and crisp their edges. Our local root vegetables in the market right now — potatoes, beets, carrots, sunchokes, celeriac — are perfect for this technique. Despite our winter weather, there are still plenty of storage crops from nearby farms in our co-ops and winter farmers markets.

Stovetop-roasted sweet potatoes develop a lovely caramel crust and become lush and tender within. Be warned that they're hard to resist being nibbled right out of the pan before serving. Once roasted, you can tangle them with pasta and shredded aged cheese or toss them with chickpeas and season with cumin and a splash of lime. I like to add a handful of fresh spinach to wilt in the pan for a bright, winsome side dish. Top this off with a fried egg and call it brunch.

Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at

Stovetop Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Spinach

Serves 2.

Note: You can easily expand this dish to serve 4 to 6 by using a bigger pan. These are great as a side dish or topped with a fried or poached egg for brunch. Add a cup of cooked drained chickpeas and season with cumin and lime, then finish with crumbled feta for a light, simple meal. From Beth Dooley.

• 1 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil

• 1 to 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 3/4 to 1 lb.), scrubbed and cut into 2-in. pieces

• 1/2 tsp. coarse salt

• Generous pinch freshly ground black pepper

• Generous pinch of cayenne

• 2 c. fresh spinach, chopped

• 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice


Film an 8-inch cast-iron skillet with the oil and set over medium-high heat. Toss in the sweet potatoes and sprinkle with the salt, pepper and cayenne. Cover and cook, turning once or twice, until the sweet potatoes are just tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the cover, increase the heat slightly, and continue cooking until the sweet potatoes are tender and browned to your liking. Toss in the spinach, turn off the heat and allow the spinach to wilt, about a minute. Drizzle with the lime juice and adjust the seasoning to taste.