While leafing through Paula Wolfert’s most recent cookbook; Clay Pot Cooking, I couldn’t help but think of all the geeky wines that would work as the perfect foil for these richly seasoned, and frequently exotic, dishes. I mean, the Gratin of Pig’s foot with Vin Jaune and Comte Cheese is not exactly an ideal pairing with your favorite Merlot or Chardonnay. I’m going to be test driving the recipe this weekend though!

Truth be told, there are plenty of classic dishes in Clay Pot Cooking, but I was more intrigued by the exotic. I found a pair of recipes that used familiar ingredients in unusual ways, and my thoughts immediately turned to the off-dry Roses of the Loire as the perfect compliment. What a fun, and festive feast for welcoming spring! Whenever that might be. Heck it would be a treat right now as we dig out of yet another east coast blizzard!

Paula Wolfert

Paula Wolfert is widely acknowledged as one of the premier food writers in America and the “queen of Mediterranean cooking.” She writes a quarterly column in Food & Wine, and is the author of seven cookbooks, several of which have remained in print for upwards of 30 years.

Buy the book: Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking: Traditional and Modern Recipes to Savor and Share

Paula Wolfert's Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Sweet Onions and Raisins

Click here to download a printable PDF file of this recipe. SERVES 4 TO 6

Unlike Western stews, just a few Moroccan tagines call for an initial intense sautéing. If browning is required, it is usually done in a hot oven, under a clay dish filled with hot coals, or under a broiler after the meat or chicken is simmered to perfection on top of the stove.

In my travels through southern Morocco I noticed that many of the tagine cooking pots were unglazed and made of a clay that shimmered due to high mica content. Such tagines, I was told, were particularly strong and could take direct flame heat. This corresponded to my observation that it is in southern Morocco that one finds tagine recipes, such as this one, that call for early browning. You can find an unglazed and mica rich tagine from the Moroccan Souss region at www.tagines.com. Here I brown the chicken legs and thighs in the tagine and at the same time slowly cook the sauce in a separate casserole to develop a rich intensity of flavor and color. After this stage, chicken and sauce are combined and then baked to glaze the onion topping.

Preferred Clay Pots:

A 3-quart glazed or unglazed earthenware or flameware saucepan or casserole with a tight-fitting lid

A 10- to 12-inch flameware tagine or Spanish cazuela

If using an electric or ceramic stovetop, be sure to use a heat diffuser with the clay pots.

3 pounds large whole chicken legs, preferably organic

2 pounds large onions, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced

3 tablespoons unsalted butt er

Pinch of saff ron threads

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup raisins

2 tablespoons honey

1. Separate the chicken legs at the joint into thighs and drumsticks. Trim off any excess fat. Let come to room temperature. Meanwhile, soak the saffron in 1/2 cup warm water for 15 minutes.

2. Place the onions, 1 tablespoon of the butter, the saffron and soaking water, cinnamon, ginger, sugar, and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper in the 3-quart earthenware casserole. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. (If the onions begin to brown too quickly, reduce the heat to low.)

3. Remove the cover. Add the raisins, raise the heat to medium, and continue cooking, uncovered, until the onions are soft and glazed and the sauce is thickened and reduced to 2 cups, about 45 minutes longer.

4. Put 1 tablespoon of the butter in the tagine. Add the chicken and set over medium-low heat. Cook slowly until the butter sizzles and the chicken skin begins to release some fat. Raise the heat to medium and continue to brown the chicken, moving it around in the tagine to keep it from sticking, but always keeping it on the skin side, for 30 minutes. From time to time, tilt the tagine and spoon off excess fat. Note that you will have to adjust the heat to keep the chicken browning slowly and consistently. Use a wooden or silicone spatula to scrape up bits and pieces that attach to the bottom of the tagine.

5. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Reduce the heat under the tagine to medium-low, turn the chicken pieces over, and cook for 15 minutes longer. Turn over again and brush the skin side of the chicken with the honey.

6. Transfer the tagine to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the chicken is glazed, about 10 minutes.

7. Spread the onion sauce over the chicken, dot with the remaining butter, and bake until the onions turn golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Paula Wolfert's Casserole of Lentils, Eggplant, and Mint

Click here to download a printable PDF file fo this recipe. SERVES 4 TO 6

Here’s a delicious summer recipe from the coastal town of Senkoyon on the Bay of Iskenderun near the Turkish Mediterranean coast. In every home in this town there’s a small iron wood-burning stove called a kuzine that’s kept lit all day long, even in summer. These stoves are perfect for clay pot cooking—just what’s needed for this outstanding summer lentil dish.

What makes this dish stellar is the special technique used to prepare the eggplant slices. They are not merely salted but immersed in heavily salted water, which removes any bitter juices but keeps them plump. Another distinguishing trick is the way the slices that line the bottom of the dish are notched along their sides. These indentations ensure that any liquid that seeps down from above will be absorbed fully. Slow, steady cooking keeps this bottom layer from burning—and, in fact, transforms it into a lovely skin.

I like to make this dish early in the day and allow it to rest. It’s served at room temperature accompanied by bowls of garlic-spiked yogurt.

Preferred Clay Pot:

A 10- inch Spanish cazuela

If using an electric or ceramic stovetop, be sure to use a heat diffuser with the clay pot.

2 pounds long, slender eggplant

Coarse salt

3/4 cup dried green lentils (4 ounces)

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, halved, seeded, and grated

1 small onion, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

⅓ cup loosely packed coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves

1 mild green chile, preferably Anaheim or Italian frying pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

1 tablespoon Turkish sweet red pepper paste

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon Marash or Aleppo pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 1/2 tablespoons imported pomegranate molasses or California pomegranate concentrate plus1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. At intervals, peel 3 lengthwise strips of skin from each eggplant, leaving it striped; cut each eggplant lengthwise into 6 slices. In a large bowl, dissolve 1/4 cup coarse salt in 2 quarts water. Add the eggplant, push it down to submerge it, and soak for at least 30 minutes. Rinse and drain the eggplant and pat dry. With the point of a knife, make a series of small slits along the edges of half of the eggplant slices.

2. Meanwhile, put the lentils in a small conventional saucepan, add enough water to cover by at least 2 inches, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the lentils are about half cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the lentils and set aside.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the grated tomatoes, onion, garlic, 2 tablespoons of the mint, the green chile, red pepper paste, tomato paste, Marash pepper, 1 tablespoon coarse salt, and black pepper.

4. Brush the cazuela with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil Arrange the snipped eggplant slices over the bottom in a single layer. Top with half of the lentils and half of the tomato mixture; repeat with the remaining eggplant, lentils, and tomato. In a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses and remaining olive oil; drizzle over the top.

5. Cover and bring to a boil; remove the cover and cook over low heat for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the heat and let cool for at least 2 and up to 6 hours. Serve at room temperature, with the remaining shredded mint scattered on top.

With thanks to Musa Dağdeviren and Ayfer Ünsal for sharing this recipe.

Mediterranean Bean Pots

A bean pot is one cooking vessel that must be made of clay, whether it’s produced in Boston, Italy, Egypt, Mexico, Spain, or China. There’s just a special affinity between earthenware and beans. Shape matters too. In Spain, earthenware bean pots, called ollas, are tall and straight. The Greek yiouvetsis and Turkish comleks, with unglazed exteriors and glazed interiors, are also straight sided and short. Yankee bean pots, like the Italian coccio are squat and potbellied. The Italians also have a tall, straight-sided bean pot, called a pignata.

When I lived in Tangier, Morocco, Fatima Ben Lahsen Riffi, my housekeeper, showed me one day how to use a gedra, a potbellied clay bean pot from her native village. She cooked dried fava beans in it and then used a smaller clay bowl to crush them against the sides until they turned smooth, at which point she worked in garlic and olive oil to create a dip she served with anise-flavored bread. (See my Slow Mediterranean Cooking for a Marrakech version of this dish.)

An exotic and complex menu that calls for an unusual partner

Turkish and Moroccan flavors combine to form a tantalizing meal
While one might not think of Turkish and Moroccan cuisines as being natural partners, the bold seasoning of these two dishes allows them to work well together. The sweet edge each has forms a bridge that really lets one complement the flavors of the other, allowing for an unusual wine pairing to work perfectly with both.

2007 Chateau de Fesles Rose d’Anjou
This unusal rose is in the classic Loire style, which means that it has a little residual sugar in it. It's produced with Gamay and Grolleau (as opposed to the more common Cabernet Franc), a wonderful indiginous grape from the Loire that gives this winner of a wine wonderful depth, complexity, and a distinct savory edge.

Photo credits: Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking:  Ed Anderson