Erato on Main's Toad in the Hole
“Seasonal,” “high-quality,” “local” are culinary buzzwords these days. But there are really only a handful of area chefs who truly embrace the locavore approach heart and soul. Erato in Edwardsville’s Kevin Willmann is one of those, believing that the region’s products are, as he says, “that good.” Case in point: Willmann’s Toad in the Hole, a breakfast basic that’s elevated to dinnertime fare by its use of farm-fresh eggs, local pork belly and house-made ricotta.
½ gallon whole milk
(Raw ... if you can find it.)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups half-and-half
1 quart 1 percent cultured buttermilk
Juice of 1 lemon
8 oz. cured pork belly
(Just make some; it’s worth it. If you don’t feel like learning how or don’t have the energy or time, I understand; just go to your local butcher and tell them that you need 4 really thick slices of their house-made bacon. Alternately, come in to Erato and ask me for some. I’ll likely share.)
1 boule of 222 Artisan Bakery bacon bread
(Call ahead and make sure they have some: 618.659.1122.)
(Farm butter is also worth it here; clarify it if you know how.)
4 of the best eggs you can find
(We use Prairie Grass Farms eggs; check the farmers’ market in your area.)
Hot sauce or chile oil
(We make chile oil by first making some garlic- or onion-scented olive oil and whisking it with copious amounts of ground ancho chile. Then we pour it into a coffee filter taped into a deep plastic container. Let gravity do its thing here.)
Domestic truffle or truffle oil
• Make the ricotta: Place the milk, cream, half-and-half and buttermilk in a large, shallow saucepan, salt to taste and heat on full blast till it simmers. Just at the simmer point, juice the lemon into the cream mix (to help the curdling) and stir.
• Continue to simmer until the curds seem to have separated from the watery whey.
• Strain the curds through your finest mesh strainer (or, better yet, cheesecloth) and reserve.
• Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
• Brown the pork belly in a skillet in the oven.
• Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat.
• Slice 4 5/8 -inch pieces from the center of the bread. Punch a hole in each slice with an empty soup can or a cookie cutter.
• Pour a few tablespoons of the clarified butter into the skillet to evenly coat the pan. Place as many of the bread slices in the pan that will comfortably fit (leaving room to flip them).
• Allow the slices to brown almost to your liking on one side, then gently crack an egg into each “hole.” Let them continue to cook for a few seconds – just long enough to seal the bottom surface of the egg. Season the egg and then flip the slices, being careful not to break the yolk. (Don’t overcook the egg, because the yolk is the best sauce for the dish.)
• Crumble some of the fresh ricotta on each slice and place the skillet in the oven for just long enough to warm the cheese.
• Drizzle some hot sauce/chile oil on each slice and shave some domestic truffle over the top (truffle oil will work too … I guess). Serve with the pork belly.