The idea of cooking in Italian clay pots may seem like a new and healthy way to prepare meals, but the history of clay pot cooking goes back thousands of years. While some clay pots with a glazed inside can be used on an open flame or stove top, this is not the case with most Italian clay pots, which are made from terracotta. Unglazed Italian clay pots should be used in an oven only. Italian clay pots which have been glazed should be used according to manufacturer's instructions, and usually a metal mesh frame heat diffuser is called for.
Italian clay pots are very useful for those on restricted diets, or for anyone simply seeking a more healthful way to prepare a wide variety of food. Italian clay pots rely on the moist heat supplied by the food itself, as well as the moisture of the prepared Italian clay pot. The result is a healthy meal prepared with a small amount of liquid containing little to no fats, sodium or grease. There is no need for basting once the food has gone into the oven. An added benefit is ease of clean up, as there is only one pot to wash.
Preparing Your Italian Clay Pot
Most Italian clay pots are oval or rectangular and made of unglazed terracotta, which means pre-soaking both the top and bottom in water for 20 to 30 minutes (or according to directions) is key. Sizes range from small (holding 2 to 5 pounds) to very large (a 15-pound turkey). Washing your Italian clay pot by scrubbing vigorously with hot water. Because Italian clay pots are porous, never use soap as it will soak into the clay and effect the taste of your food.Recently, some manufacturers have began glazing their Italian clay pots for use on stove tops. In this case, follow the manufacturer's instructions on care and use.
What Can I Make?
Italian clay pots are a good way to make an assortment of delicious meals, including soups and stews, poultry, meat, fish, and all vegetables. Using your Italian clay pot as a garlic roaster is especially rewarding. Breads baked in Italian clay pots have a crispier crust, and a turkey roasted in an Italian clay pot will retain its juices. Tougher, inexpensive cuts of beef also retain juices, and the resulting dish will taste far more tender (and expensive) than it actually was. Italian clay pots can also be used for making desserts such as apple pie and cobblers to steamed pudding.
Always use caution when removing the top of your Italian clay pot once your meal is finished cooking. Steam build-up can be very dangerous and result in serious burns.
Where to Buy an Italian Clay Pot?
Your local gourmet cooking store may carry a variety of Italian clay pots, but you can also find them in discount stores as well as cooking supply websites. Check prices to be sure you're getting the best deal as prices may vary. Many come with a list of recipes, but several clay pot cookbooks are now available in bookstores or anywhere cookbooks are sold.