While it has become fashionable again with the resurgence of 'peasant style' cooking, clay is not something you often find in the average North American kitchen. Or rather, some of us may have a clay pot kicking around somewhere, but we probably don't use it much.
I've come to own a clay bean pot and a conical Umbrian pot (similar to a tagine), both courtesy of my mom, though until recently really didn't know what to do with them. I have made traditional fèves au lard in the bean pot once for a trip to the cabane à sucre with B's family. They came out amazing, but since I don't usually make huge batches of beans for just B and I, it had been sitting on the shelf since. The Umbrian pot came with no directions, no recipes, and quite frankly just confused me, so it has kept the bean pot company on the shelf.
Now seeing that we're in the last few weeks of an especially snowy winter here, I've been in the mood for stews and soups. Chili is popular in our house, but I don't generally have the time to make it from scratch, what with soaking beans and all that. I don't care for beans from a can either, but hadn't had much luck with cooking them myself. Then I came across this post at The Kitchn on cooking beans in the oven.... with no soaking required! I busted out the bean pot and tried some black beans, and it became my new favorite way to cook dried beans. Love, love, love.
What to do with all those lovely beans once they're cooked? One of my favorites is Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili. I make mine on the spicy side with a good dose of cumin and chipotle as the smokiness and heat compliments the sweetness of the potatoes nicely. It also freezes well, so you can make a big batch one lazy Sunday afternoon and put some away for later.
The Umbrian pot was a bit more of a puzzle, but this weekend I found osso buco on sale and decided to improvise something with that. I'd never had it, never made it, but something told me it was time to try it ;) Upon looking up some recipes, many suggested clay pots or dutch ovens, so I figured I'd give it a whirl in the Umbrian pot. I used Jamie Oliver's recipe as a starting point, and may I just say now I love how this recipe is written. Handfuls of this, glugs of that... *totally* how I usually end up cooking! Sorry, but seeing that just made me happy. Anyway! I browned the osso buco (which was pork, by the way, not veal), put it in the bottom of the pot, caramelized some onions and garlic with a healthy dose of Italian seasonings, threw in some chopped carrots and a can of stewed tomatoes, on went the conical top and into a 350 F oven it went for about 2 hours. The end result is a rich stew with the meat literally falling off the bone. The marrow in the center of the bone melts into the stew (the melted marrow leaves a hole in the bone which gives the dish it's name, 'osso' for bone and 'buco' for hole) and adds a surprisingly buttery flavor. Little bit of french bread and some wine to go with.... heaven.
You've still got another few weeks of winter left to enjoy... if you've got a clay pot, go dust it off and either find a recipe or improvise something and get cooking!