We’ve started a new year of our wonderful series “Around the World in 12 Dishes.” Every month our group chooses a new country, and we learn a bit about the culture and make a typical dish. This month, we’re making Pasteis de Nata and learning about Portugal!
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Portugal is the most western country in continental Europe, with a large coastline (on which most of its population lives). Because of their closeness with the ocean, the Portuguese became expert seafarers and well-traveled explorers, such as Vasco de Gama, the first European to reach India by sea. At 600 years, the Portuguese Empire was the longest-lived of the European colonial empires; its territories span the globe and now form part of over 50 nations! Brazil is the largest and most obvious ex-colony of Portugal, but other colonies include Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Timor-Leste, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau (all in Africa). In Asia, Macau and Easter Timor only recently became sovereign.
Lisbon, the capital, was founded in 1260 and is one of the oldest cities in the world (see pictures below from my husband’s and my 2nd wedding anniversary in Lisbon). When Portugal was part of the Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic religion was introduced, and still is an important part of the culture today. One of the major Catholic shrines honors “Our Lady of Fátima” and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors. The pasteis de nata that we are making today have a surprising connection to the Catholic faith!
That brings us to our legendary recipe: Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts). This ubiquitous pastry is not only found in Portugal, but also in Portuguese-speaking nations such as Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, Timor-Leste, and Macau.
This is what we were told is the history of pasteis de nata: in the 1600s, there were many convents and monasteries in Lisbon that used large quantities of egg whites to press and starch the clothes for the priests, monks, and nuns. Using the egg whites, there was an abundance of egg yolks, and so it became commonplace to make cakes and pastries with the egg yolks. Pastéis de nata were created by Catholic monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. You can see this monastery in the picture above (of the interior of a church) and here: (and read the history here)
Pasteis de Nata Recipe
1. Spray your muffin tins, or use paper linings.
2. Have your kids remove the sheets of puff pastry, and use a cup to cut out circles. Then they can press the dough into the muffin tins. We had enough dough to make exactly 24! (does that ever happen so precisely?)
3. Preheat the oven to 375. Mix the cornstarch in a small bowl with a bit of milk. Then mix the rest of the milk well with the cornstarch, plus the vanilla, sugar. Place it in a saucepan with the cinnamon stick and slowly heat it, until it gets very thick.
4. While you let the milk mixture cool a bit, beat the egg yolks in a bowl. Then slowly add them together (remove cinnamon stick).
5. Next use a measuring cup to scoop up some of the custard-like mixture, and carefully pour into your prepared puffed pastry.
6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until slightly brown. You can see I took them out a couple minutes too soon because we were late for swimming:). They were SO good- I have some friends from Brazil, Nicaragua, and Spain on our swim team and we shared with them. They loved them! Pasteis de nata in Spanish is pastel de nata:).
This is the 1st month in the new season of “Around the World in 12 Dishes.” This year we have chosen the following countries:
March – Iceland
April – Portugal
May – Croatia
June – Hungary
July – Ukraine
August – Saudi Arabia
September – Vietnam
October – Mongolia
November – Cuba
December – Bolivia
January – Senegal
February – South Africa
We are inviting our readers to participate in our culinary adventure!
On our Facebook page and our Google+ community page we have a coloring placemat and a 4 page passport with lots of fun information for each country, plus questions, a spot for a photo of you and your dish, and space to put your own recipe. Each country will also have its own linky, where you can link up your own related posts- we would love to see your posts!