Chef Tom’s Food and Cooking Column appears on page 13 of the Ace Weekly print edition. Text and Photos by Chef Tom.
This appears on page 13 of the September 13 print edition of Ace Weekly.
BY TOM YATES
When I was a kid, my dad and I would pile into his orange GMC pickup truck, well before sunrise, and drive for hours from western Kentucky to Bybee, Kentucky with hopes of filling the truck bed with Bybee Pottery to sell at his Trading Post on the edge of Barren River Reservoir. On certain days of the week, people lined up in front of the wooden pottery shed before 8 am to buy pieces from the oldest family-owned pottery shop east of the Appalachian Mountains. Founded in 1809 by Webster Cornelison, members of the Cornelison family made and sold their imperfect pottery until 2011 when they suspended operations. Hand-thrown from clay that had been open-mined in Madison County, the pottery was dried, glazed, and kiln-fired to create unique (usable) pottery pieces.
My dad bought Bybee Pottery by the truckloads. The varieties were staggering: dinner plates, salad plates, pie plates, serving dishes, casserole dishes, bowls, pitchers, soup bowls, serving bowls, punch bowls, coffee cups, and canister sets were available in a multitude of colors and patterns. Whether they were Bybee blue, navy, denim, burgundy, white, sand, teal, yellow, brown, pink, rose, pink, speckled, or reversed speckled, we had them all. Every color, pattern, shape and form. They were a part of our everyday lives. When my dad passed away, I ended up with all of the pottery.
Although we’ve lost a few pieces over the years from overzealous movers, careless handling, and downright stupidity, we’ve managed to salvage the bulk of my father’s pottery. Because they’re microwave-, oven-, and dishwasher-safe, I use them all the time. That being said, I have two round Bybee casserole dishes that have always befuddled me. With conical-shaped handles, they’re too small for Thanksgiving casseroles and too big for individual soup crocks. Size matters.
Recently, I noticed that my awkward Bybee dishes looked somewhat like cazuelas, traditional Spanish round earthenware cooking vessels with shallow rims used for baking, braising, roasting, soup making, and serving.
With fresh eyes, I re-purposed them into Appalachian cazuelas for a riff on shirred eggs with deconstructed hash.
Mise en place.
I sauteed fresh shiitake mushrooms (purposely leaving the tough stems attached) with garlic and slivered candy onions. When the onions caramelized and the mushrooms browned, I seasoned them with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley before removing them from the skillet. After adding an additional drizzle of olive oil over a medium flame, I sauteed blanched quartered new potatoes until they were golden brown. After scooping out the potatoes, I tumbled 1 cup of thinly sliced candy onions into the skillet, sauteed them until they were translucent, and added 2 minced garlic cloves. When the garlic was fragrant, I deglazed the pan with 1/4 white wine combined with 1/4 cup chicken stock and let the liquid reduce to 2 tablespoons before tossing thick hardy leaves of organic spinach into the concentrated onion stock to steam for 3 minutes.
I scooped the bright spinach onion jam out of the skillet to cool, poured myself a goblet of wine, and gave it a rest.
After a few glasses of wine, the prep was a thing of the past, the living was easy, and supper simply cooked itself.
I swirled the cooked spinach and onions into the buttered makeshift Appalachian cazuelas with a scattering of the sauteed potatoes before feathering gorgeous prosciutto slices around the edges. After tumbling the shiitake mushrooms over the potatoes, I haphazardly sliced/squished neglected overripe windowsill heirloom tomatoes and nestled them (juice, pulp, skin, and flesh) into the mix.
After preheating the oven to 375 degrees, I cracked two large organic eggs into each cazuela, grated parmigiano reggiano over the eggs, and slid them into oven to bake until the whites set, leaving the yolks loose and runny, about 12 to 15 minutes.
The eggs seemed to float in the hash, slightly suspended throughout the salty prosciutto, sweet garlicky spinach, silken mushrooms, crispy potatoes, and juicy tomatoes. When pierced, the jiggly yolks spilled into the hash. As the yolks oozed, they pulled the nutty cheese into streams that swirled through the sweet tomato pan juices, creating sexy fondue puddles for the flaky buttered biscuits. Soppers.
Empapar. To soak up.