Cooking in Clay

Casseroles are a winter food, I have decided.  I never bake casseroles in the spring, summer or fall.  I don’t know why exactly, though I can honestly say that winter veggis taste great baked and it doesn’t hurt to heat the house with an oven on a cold night.

The following is a recipe my friend Noreen Morley sent me (along with a cup of her veg stock) so I could try another fabulous winter casserole in one of my casseroles.  My casseroles can go into a hot oven, as long as they are room temp when they go in.    Once out and empty, these babies are a breeze to clean!  Either hand wash or dishwash, my pots clean up easy.

By the way, Noreen is a wine maker, honey bee keeper, honey collector, shiitaki mushroom grower and mead maker… along with other fabulous things!  Check out her Big Girl Winery, made from fruits grown on her property or pretty darn close!  Visit her winery or find our where you can get some of her fab wines!

Winter Vegetable Cobbler

1 turnip. peeled and cut in bite-sized pieces

1 potato (russet or baking) peeled and diced

2 small parsnips, peeled and sliced

1 small onion, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup parsley

1 cup vegi broth

2 Tb cornstarch

1 tsp salt

pepper to taste

4 Tb butter


1 1/4 cup flour

1 Tb baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

6 Tb butter, chilled and in small pieces

3/4 cup cream

Put the vegis in a large, 8-cup baking dish (preferable clay pot 2 inches deep).  In a small bowl, blend the broth with the cornstarch and pour this over the veggis.  Add salt and pepper to taste and mix well.  Dot the top with butter.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and begin making the cobbler dough:  mix flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor.  Drop chilled butter in and mix, with short bursts, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Slowly add cream to mixture and blend until it just begins to ball up.  Empty dough onto floured board, flatten out and place onto top of baking dish to cover veggis.  Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until lightly browned and veggis are tender.

Clay casserole

Tasty goodness in a clay casserole


Winter vegetable cobbler, on a plate

Plated on a Kevin Snipes bowly plate. Tastes better when served on a friend!

Handmade Pottery Produces Great Lasagna!

I have felt really guilty about my bakers and casseroles lately. Why, you ask? Well, I love to cook and eat out of handmade pottery. Did you read that? I love to cook. And I love to eat out of handmade pottery. But do I COOK in handmade pottery?! Actually, most often I do not. This is because most all of my vegetarian/pescartarian meals are cooked directly on the stovetop – like stir fries, beans in my pressure cooker, etc. I just don’t make casseroles and hardly bake anything but bread – and that bread is in free-form or in my aluminum bread pan (insert guilty smile.)

Honestly – I am afraid of making any baked good like brownies, cornbread and the like, in a pan that doesn’t exactly fit the recipe’s recommendations. You’ve read them – a 8×8 or 11×7 pan, large loaf pan 4×9, etc. Being that I am not into measuring every little item I make on the wheel, I make no ‘8×8’ pan, and therefore no brownie pan.

So tonight I took the plunge. I brought home one of my bakers and decided to make lasagna. Now, this is no ordinary lasagna. My friend Noreen owns Big Girl Winery and Farm just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. She is also a lover of handmade pottery. So when she brought over 2 pounds of fresh shiitake mushrooms to add to her barter lot*, I couldn’t resist the idea of finally doing some savory baking in my baker – shiitake-spinach lasagna.

Shiitake-spinach lasagna

Leftovers - Shiitake-spinach lasagna in a Pincu Pot baker. Notice the puffy handle (see my last post if you don't get it)

On my way home from Pincu Pottery after a long day and really fun time with my 5 young students, I stopped at Ingles, my local grocery, to purchase the required ingredients.   Here is the quick and easy recipe for working folk (If I weren’t working I may have made my own noodles, sauce, etc.):

Shiitake-Spinach Lasagna

1/2 package no-cook lasagna noodles

1 can organic pasta sauce

about 20 fresh shiitakes, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

1 15 oz. ricotta

1/2 small bag of shredded mozzerella

Parmesan cheese

1/2 small bag frozen spinach

1 egg (organically grown by Sleepy Hollow Farm, a Bryson City organic farm just outside the Great Smoky Mountains!)



ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix the ricotta, mozzarella (minus about a handful), egg, spinach together. Add some black pepper to taste and a pinch of ground nutmeg. Saute the shiitake mushrooms in olive oil until slightly soft (5 min.) and at the end, throw in the garlic to soften. Mix this in with cheese mixture.
Place a little sauce to cover the bottom of the baker.  Then add one layer of noodles. Add a layer of cheese mixture and sprinkle with a little oregano. Add another layer of noodles. Then add some more cheese mix and then more sauce. One more layer of noodles, then sauce then extra mozzarella and Parmesan cheese on top.
Cover with tin foil and bake at 375 for 55 minutes. Take off the tin foil and turn on broiler for 5 minutes or until cheese on top gets crusty.

Pincu Pottery Lasagna with Shiitake and Spinach

YUM! We each had seconds! (the photo was taken with poor lighting and with a video camera, so please excuse....)

So now it’s your turn – I need more recipes to use in my bakers/casseroles! Please post your favorite no-meat casserole recipe in the comments! Thanks in advance!

* I will barter for pottery. It needs to be win-win, like me getting fresh shiitake mushrooms, honey and wine from Big Girl Winery. Just ask – I may be interested!

Why earthenware?

Why earthenware? Not only does the rich color of the clay reference my natural surroundings and contrast nicely with my glazes, but earthenware has a rich history that I want to celebrate through my choice in clay.

Earthenware was the first clay used to make vessels. Before knowledge and technology became more sophisticated, people dug clay on riverbanks and fired their pottery in pits with any combustibles around (cow dung, wood, etc.) The majority of clay on earth is earthenware – so the majority of pottery was comprised of earthenware until people found other clay deposits and learned to mix clays. Along with finding those other clays, people had to learn to build kilns that got to higher temperatures. A pit heated with cow dung or piles of wood and straw will not reach temperatures high enough to vitrify stonewares and porcelain. Technology had to improve first.

Another aspect of earthenware that I like is its insulating properties. True earthenware, fired to the highest possible temperature without melting, is never totally vitrified. That is, the pots are not 100% water tight. The pores within the clay body act as insulation, allowing a hand to cup a mug filled with hot coffee and not burn, unlike porcelain which will get extremely hot to the touch. Of course, I must insist that my pottery does not leak. Not being 100% water tight does not mean a pot will leak on regular use. A coat of well-fitted glaze on the inside of a pot as well as a smooth application of a fine particled slip (terra sigilatta) on the bottom of the pot will ensure no liquid escapes in home use.

Along with insulating properties, earthenware distributes heat evenly. Therefore, baking in the oven with an earthenware casserole improves the cooking quality and taste to your food. A seasoned chef or foodie will be familiar with many traditional earthenware cooking vessels that are still in demand to coax the best flavors from the food – Moroccan tagine, French Daubiere, South American Cazuelas. Though some are able to be placed on the stovetop, my pottery is made for oven use, not atop a direct heat source.

For more information on Earthenware, I have created a page that links to many sites on the Internet that I have found helpful in explaining the properties of Earthenware, its history and showing contemporary potters that use the wonderful clay.

From now on, I intend to post Recipes for using my casseroles in the oven. Foods that I cook will not include meat; however I look forward to emails including recipes you have used that I can share with my readers. Pictures of the casseroles in use will also be much appreciated.

FYI: There are many high-end earthenware manufacturers today that produce pots for the oven. Many, if not all of these, are slip-casted earthenware pots. This means they are made in molds, not hand made. They are not individuals with the mark of the maker within. They are still fabulous pots; but for the price you pay (usually much higher than I will ask for a pot) you may consider getting yourself a ‘work of art’ that no other person will have. A unique, original, handmade pot that can be used to cook and to serve.

Here is a short list of manufactured earthenware pots to browse:

Bram Cookware; Emile Henry; Romertopf; L’Arelier Vert (Green Studio);