La Meridiana International School of Ceramics is hidden in the heart of Italy’s Tuscan countryside. La Meridiana was founded in 1981 by Pietro Maddalena, a ceramic artist and potter, who has spent the last 20 years transforming a dilapidated Tuscan farmhouse into one of the most respected ceramic schools in Italy.
One of the most loved moments in every workshop day at La Meridiana are the tantalizing lunches, prepared by chef Lucia Zucconi (1). Using fresh, locally grown produce, Lucia prepares a three-course lunch, which is often cooked in Pietro’s flameware pots, and served on dishes also hand crafted by Pietro.
Lucia loves using flameware pots because they have excellent properties for cooking—better insulation, even temperature regulation, and better flavor retention than other cookware. Flameware pots withstand extreme thermal shock and can be used in the oven and also on the direct heat of the stove top.
The dishes are fabulous to use when preparing stews and roasts, or when boiling and broiling as the pan heats slowly, allowing for food to be cooked more uniformly. The dishes also retain heat for long periods of time, making them ideal for serving.
Constructing a Casserole
Pietro centers 5 pounds of well-wedged flameware clay, then opens and lifts it into a vessel form (2). He pays close attention to the base, making sure that there are no sharp angles—angles invite cracking—between the base and the wall so that it flows from the base to the wall in a continuous curve. The thickness of the pot must be even, about ¼ inch.
Pietro throws the lid upside down, allows it to firm up to leather hard, then trims it to mirror the curve of the vessel (see 5).
The knob is made separately and consists of three individual pieces: a hollow knob that is thrown directly onto the leather-hard lid, a hollow stopper, and a final, closed stopper (3). This multi-piece lid allows the cook to let out steam in a controlled manner, without having to lift off the whole lid.
Finally, he pulls handles, sets them aside to firm up, then attaches them directly onto the pot (4). He allows the entire casserole to dry slowly, with the lid on (5), so the moisture levels equalize and the parts shrink at the same rate, before he bisque fires the pot.
Using and Maintaining a Flameware Pot
Flameware pots are easy to clean, since the food doesn’t tend to stick to the surface. Lucia simply uses dish soap and a sponge to clean her pieces, but they’re also dishwasher safe. A steel-wool sponge may be used if the pot has baked on crusts that need to be removed—it will not harm the surface. With use, a pleasant patina will form and will make any flameware pot even more beautiful.
If you would like to learn how to make and how to cook with your own flameware pots, La Meridiana will be running a Clay, Gnocchi & More workshop at La Meridiana from April 27–May 6, 2017. To learn more, check out www.lameridiana.fi.it.If you plan to attend the 2017 NCECA conference in Portland, Oregon, stop by the La Meridiana booth (T7) in the Resource Hall to meet Pietro Maddalena and learn more about the workshop center.