Ancient Pans for Modern Flavors

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Alessandra Rovati
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terracotta pot stew

It’s not that I don’t love my mother; she is great. She is smart, interesting, accomplished and fun to be with.  It's just that she has this annoying habit of recalling my past mistakes and exclaiming: “I told you so!”

It all started in the eighties when I was a know-it-all teenager, and decided to embark on a modernization spree. The first step was imposing the purchase of a microwave oven and a Braun food processor (my mother continued to whisk her mayonnaise by hand, and used the microwave to store cooking books). Next was my “upgrade” from aluminum and cast-iron pans to stainless steel and non-stick Teflon. Still polite, condescending silence (after all, if that was the extent of my teenage rebellion, she considered herself lucky).

Until one day she found out that, to make space for the new stainless set, I had dared to dispose of grandma’s pentola di coccio (clay pot), and her copper pots (paioli) for polenta and jam. Now, you shouldn't think that my nonna was one of these extraordinary home cooks that populate the dreams of Italian food lovers; all she could make were five or six things.  However, her bread soup and polenta were awesome, and when my mom opened the cabinets to find her favorite tools missing - all h*ll broke loose. We had an epic fight, which ended, as always, with her saying “One day you’ll be sorry!” and me raising my eyes, hissing “Yeah, right!” and slamming my bedroom door.

But here is the thing: even when your children look like they aren’t listening to you, they are. It’s just going to take them about 20 years to process the information and finally agree with you 100%. One day in my thirties I woke up and realized that, in many ways, I had turned into my mother. The truth was that my mom had been giving me sound advice for all my life. Some of it just took a while to actually sink in.

I started noticing many articles that praised the qualities of traditional cookware. Cast iron, clay, copper; they were all calling my name from the glossy pages of my favorite Williams- Sonoma catalogues. Of course, after I broke down and spent a week’s salary on an imported and overpriced version of something I myself had thrown out, I went to great lengths to hide them from Mom.

italian terra cotta earthenware pot

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COCCIO-TERRACOTTA EARTHENWARE (Enameled or not)

When I was little, I remember my Nonna telling me that clay “remembers” all the delicious dishes that are cooked in it, so the older and the more “used’ the pot is, the tastier the result. I would have laughed this off as an old wives’ tale - but my mom, who is a pharmaceutical chemist, confirms that it’s all true, thanks to the porous nature of clay. This means, she adds, that (no matter how gorgeous my authentic Tuscan cookware is, and how many cooking classes I teach) my stew is never going to taste as good as it would have in our family heirloom.

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Click here for 5 Tips for Cooking with Earthenware

Get my recipe for Tuscan Pepper Stew here

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Copper Pots

What home cook hasn’t dreamed of owning an extravagantly expensive copper cookware set and feeling like a romantic French chef in a Paris kitchen? Let’s admit it: even if you don’t cook at all, such a shiny and gorgeous set would make your kitchen look designer fabulous! In addition to adding a decorative flair, copper conducts heat better than any other material, propagating the heat quickly but evenly through the whole utensil, without any of those annoying burns you get with stainless steel. Copper also lasts practically forever, and like cast iron and clay it boosts the flavor of some particular foods.

Read all about using Copper pots, limitation and best uses. 

Get my recipe for authentic polenta here.

This article is part of a series on "pots & pans" published in Joy Of Kosher Magazine. Some other pots & pans included are crock pots & pressure cookers, for more information and recipes Subscribe Today

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As seen in the Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller Magazine

Summer 2013

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