A couple of weeks ago I went out front to check the mail and lo and behold there was a huge box on the front porch. A gift from the UPS dude. Yay! I love gifts! I love the UPS dude!
But what could be in this ginormous box? The chic looking label said Toque Blanche, which is a cooking store in Half Moon Bay. My heart started racing. Holy baloney this could be good!
After digging through a billion layers of tissue and an ocean of foam peanuts (little excited am I?) I discovered one of these …
And one of these …
Wahoo! My heart was beating like a hummingbird and I felt like a kid on Christmas. I was dumbstruck. I was shocked. And awed. The heavens opened up and Toby Keith started singing.
It was La Chamba cookware—a beautiful baking dish and stock (or bean) pot. They were gifts from Jack’s dear friends up in Alaska. Just another reason to love this fella. He’s got great friends.
Here’s the thing about La Chamba cookware, it’s a unique black clay pottery made only in central Colombia, South America. It has wonderful mutli-use cooking properties. You can go from stove top to oven to table and then later to the fridge and then to microwave for reheating. It’s incredibly versatile and has remarkable heat retention properties. And they are as cool looking to serve from as they are to cook in. I feel about La Chamba the way I feel about my Le Creuset cast iron stock pots. The same way I feel about my favorite stainless steel mixing bowl (brand unknown), which is just the right size, weight and roundness for 98% of my needs. I’ve had it forever and would be lost without it. It’s perfect. It’s indispensable. It’s manna from heaven. Those that are attached to certain cookware know what I’m talking about.
But what really stunned me was not that someone gave us something so wonderful and generous (although it absolutely was), but that they gave us something that was so connected to my childhood growing up in Colombia. Did they do so unwittingly? Did they know I grew up in Colombia? Did they know that I have such special memories about Colombian cuisine and, in particular, this utilitarian black pottery? How could they? It’s not something I talk about much, if ever.
When I was a kid my mother had La Chamba cookware and used it regularly. My sister-in-law, who is Colombian, adores her La Chamba cookware and it has traveled with her all over the world during the past twenty years. She’s always a happy cook whenever she breaks it out because it too, reminds her of home and the savory roasting smells wafting from the kitchen of her childhood. We’ve had a conversation or two about this.
I couldn’t believe that someone sent us this gift. Not just a beautiful pot, but a connection to food and memories of a culture that is integral to who I am.
Did I already say that?
My heartfelt thanks to Roger and Diane for this beautiful cookware. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Since receiving them I’ve been excited to use these wonderful gifts—my first “real” clay cookware.
On to the inaugural dish: It’s the beginning of Spring and I’ve been looking at what’s fresh and seasonal right now. Not only does the food taste better when you’re buying in season, but it’s also MUCH more economical. Win-win if you ask me. Being unemployed means that saving money is high on my priority list these days. I’m too much of a foodie to give up good eats for low budget. We’ll just get creative instead.
The other important factor is ease, especially during the week. I’m all about easy.
So, I decided to roast some seasonal vegetables and potatoes that could be hearty enough for dinner all on its own, a one-dish meal if you will. When it comes to seasonal cooking with lots of fresh vegetables I often turn to one of favorite cookbooks: The French Market—More Recipes from a French Kitchen. Nobody does seasonal cooking like the French. Here’s their recipe for roasted eggplant, which I’ve modified a wee bit by throwing in baby potatoes and garnishing with feta cheese.
Roasted Eggplant Casserole
Modified from The French Market—More Recipes from the French Kitchen
2 cloves garlic, 1 peeled and 1 chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 large eggplant, trimmed
2 pounds ripe tomatoes
8-10 baby red or fingerling potatoes
8 sprigs of thyme, leaves only plus 3-4 sprigs left whole
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup feta cheese (goat cheese would also be tres fab!)
NOTE: Do as I say and not as I did. Pre-cook your potatoes for a couple of minutes in the microwave before you start assembling your dish. Don’t overcook as they will get too starchy, but until their potato al dente.
1. Heat the oven 375F. Rub your casserole dish with garlic and a little olive oil.
2. Slice eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes 1/2″ thick. Layer all the potatoes on the bottom of dish along with the end pieces of the eggplant and tomatoes. Add thyme, salt and pepper to taste.
3. Then start to layer the eggplant and tomatoes, adding salt, pepper and thyme to each layer.
4. Tuck whole thyme sprigs throughout the top layer.
5. Add vegetable stock and drizzle remaining olive oil.
6. Bake for 45 minutes.
7. Reduce heat to 325F for another 45 minutes. Or cover in tin foil and leave at 350F.
8. Dish and sprinkle with feta cheese.
Can be served hot or cold. Enjoy!