Make this delicious appetizer in a cast-iron skillet. Video by Connie Post

Make incredible dishes in cast iron

Cast-iron cookware is making a comeback.

In the last several years, I’ve noticed more cookbooks include recipes made in a cast-iron skillet.

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Cast-iron is heavy and takes longer to heat up, but it can withstand high temperatures, which makes it ideal for searing steaks and other meats. It’s also very durable and can last for generations.

Over time, a cast-iron skillet will develop a non-stick, shiny patina. That means the more you use it, the better it gets. The key to cast-iron is that it needs to be seasoned and maintained. That sounds like a lot of work but it’s not. There are enamel-coated cast-iron skillets, and maybe in the future I’ll buy one. But right now I’m happy with my traditional cast-iron skillet. When I’m done with it, all I do is wash it with very hot water and a stiff brush, dry it off, reheat it on medium-high on the stove for a few minutes and “season” it with a little vegetable oil.

Cast-iron is also versatile — use it in the oven as well as on the range. Whip up pizzas, frittatas, pies and breads in a cast-iron skillet. It’s also good for frying doughnuts or roasting a whole chicken. Finally, cast-iron is attractive and often there’s no need to transfer a dish onto a serving plate. It makes a stunning presentation for this dish:

BAKED PEPPERONI PIZZA DIP

3 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni, quartered

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound pizza dough

8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened

¾ cup pizza sauce

4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook pepperoni in 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer pepperoni to paper towel-lined plate; set aside. Off heat, add oil and garlic to fat left in skillet and let sit until fragrant, about 1 minute; transfer to medium bowl.

Place dough on lightly floured counter, pat into rough 8-inch square, and cut into 32 pieces (½ ounce each). Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll into tight ball, then coat with garlic oil. Evenly space 18 balls around edge of skillet, keeping center of skillet clear. Place remaining 14 balls on top, staggering them between seams of balls underneath. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed, about 20 minutes.

Remove plastic. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until balls are just beginning to brown, about 20 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Meanwhile, whisk cream cheese and pizza sauce together in large bowl until thoroughly combined and smooth. Stir in mozzarella and three-quarters of crisped pepperoni.

Spoon cheese mixture into center of skillet, return to oven, and bake until dip is heated through and rolls are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and remaining crisped pepperoni. Serve.

Our assessment: This is a fun appetizer. Cast iron retains heat extremely well, so be sure to inform your guests not to touch the handle of the skillet with bare hands.

For pizza dough, I used Pilsbury Pizza Crust Classic, which comes in a 13.8-ounce can. It rolls out into a rectangle, which I cut into 28 pieces. Because this wasn’t enough for the recipe, I opened another can and added eight, rather than four more pieces. The recipe notes that with 32 balls, there were be some gaps in the top row. By making four extra balls, the gaps are eliminated.

I used the remaining pizza dough from the second can to make triangular calzones — I had a square of dough left over, which I cut into four triangles. I then spooned about a tablespoon of pizza sauce on half of each triangle, sprinkled shredded mozzarella on the sauce, then topped with a few pepperoni slices and about a teaspoon of chopped basil. I folded the triangles, sealed the edges and baked them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 8-9 minutes.

From the book: “Cook It In Cast Iron: Kitchen-Tested Recipes for the One Pan That Does it All” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen; 304 pages, $26.95. Published by America’s Test Kitchen, 2016.

What you get: This collection covers appetizers; skillet roasts; seared meats and fish; one-dish dinners; sandwiches, burgers and pizzas; eggs and breakfast; biscuits and breads; and desserts. The introduction includes tips for using a cast-iron skillet as well as recommendations for buying one.

In their own words: “The cast-iron skillet is the one pan that does it all. This supertool is definitely a star in the test kitchen and our home kitchens and with the recipes and techniques in this book, we’re convinced it will become the star of yours, too. — the editors at America’s Test Kitchen

ABOUT THIS FEATURENew cookbooks flood the market every week. This feature will help you make sense of what’s new and what’s worth trying out. Email your questions and ideas to connie.post@coxinc.com

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