Warm and full of integrity. That’s how Barbara Haber described JBF Award winner Paula Wolfert and her recipes at Beard on Books last week. After the introduction, Wolfert gave us some background about her lifelong love affair with cooking and the foods of the Mediterranean. She quit college to attend Le Cordon Bleu and went on to work with James Beard when she was only 19. After a very hard and tiring summer doing catering jobs with John Clancy, she decided to go to Morocco. According to Wolfert, in the 1950s, “if you were a writer and a beatnik, you went to Tangiers.” She didn’t go for the food, but it worked its way into her cooking, and she expanded out into the rest of the Mediterranean and, as she says, “it swept me away.” She went on in 1973 to write Couscous and other Good Food from Morocco, which became the definitive sourcebook for Moroccan cuisine.
Years later, Wolfert has penned over a dozen books, and her latest release is called Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking: Traditional and Modern Recipes to Savor and Share. The author loves cooking in clay pots because they “coddle the food.” Everything inside becomes insulated and the moisture is allowed to recycle, leaving everything to cook in its own juices. It may even be true that the clay absorbs flavor, that the seasonings stay behind. According to Wolfert, Moroccans say, "If you make the same tagine over and over in the same pot, there comes a time when you can forget to add the spices." And in Turkey they claim, "If you use the same govich to make lamb, when you start putting the onions in the pot, it will remember its old tenants."
Clay pot cooking isn’t just for old school, traditional ethnic dishes. These versatile vessels can cook just about anything. This recipe for creamy pumpkin soup is a creation of Wolfert’s and incorporates Roquefort cheese, which is strong and pungent on its own, but grows mellow when cooked.