Pastéis de Nata, an open thank you letter to Phil Rosenthal

Confluence. When it all flows together.

You see, this humble food blog is about to become a one-year-old. I didn’t “go live” until March 2nd of last year, but there was a gestation period. I started writing it because people kept telling me, after I’d served them something from my kitchen, you should write these recipes down somewhere. And after a period of back-and-forth pish-toshing, I decided I’d do just that. And I suppose having helped build this internet thingy over the last twenty years or so influenced me to do it online and in public. I don’t know what I was thinking.

But there you go.

The question in my mind now, however, is why am I still doing this?  I’m just some guy who cooks. It’s fun and I’m pretty good at it. But I could say that about watching Netflix, playing old songs on an old guitar, and reading science fiction novels too.

And then I heard Chef Thomas Keller say something that popped a little light bulb on above my head like an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon moment.

Cooks cook to nurture people.

Designing and building the systems behind today’s global computing infrastructure, while gratifying enough for a while, didn’t let me make people smile. Sure, I helped them make travel reservations or monitor rooms of servers in the cloud, but no real smiling.

Set that aside.

 

Last year, on the aforementioned Netflix, I caught I’ll Have What Phil’s Having and it made me smile a lot. It gave us joy. My wife and I binged one episode after the other and were admittedly a bit sad when it was over. (I’m not a television executive but I think that reaction might have been what they were shooting for.)

Before the show, however, I didn’t know Phil Rosenthal from The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. There but for the grace of Google, ah, Everybody Loves Raymond, that was good, we liked that. Not exactly a food-lover’s testimonial but hey, this looks like fun, so we watched anyway, benefit of the doubt and all.

And then this year, just a couple of weeks ago, season two appeared. Albeit with a new name, Somebody Feed Phil. And we had a second helping of joy. Huzzah!

Pasteis de Nata

 

Confluence.

To nurture people by cooking.

To make people happy.

To give joy.

How could you not want a part of that?

So, this post is my open thank you letter to Phil Rosenthal.

 

Lisbon, Portugal. Pastéis de Nata.

It’s a Portuguese custard tart. And it’s life-changing good.

Everything on the show looked good. Okay, not the insect stuff, but everything else. I’m not judging, but been there, done that.

Phil had these twice. He made a point of it. A not so subtle hint, eh?

And let me tell you this up front: on the show, the gentleman behind the counter pointed out that pastéis is the plural, and pastel is the singular. Because somebody somewhere, given the choice, only ate one of these marvelous gems.

Yeah, right.

Given that a spur-of-the-moment trip to Lisbon was impossible, the next morning I hit the Suppertime Blues Kitchen with a sense of urgency. Which was only frustrating because I learned these take about half a day to make. But round up the ingredients, get out the camera and…cloudy, rainy day, no good light. Should I wait for a sunny day? Ha! I don’t think so. (Which is my way of apologizing for my impatience and so-so pictures.)

Pasteis de Nata

You know me, once a systems analyst always a systems analyst, data gathering comes first. I read about a hundred recipes for these tarts. Most were variations on a theme so I picked out the commonalities. For some reason, a lot of people add a little bit to a lotta bit of lemon and lemon zest. I put those in the discard pile for now.

What I found is that most people are making David Leite’s recipe on his Leite’s Culinaria site. Having never had the original, I could not fathom a justification to reinvent the wheel and try to adapt this. So, I did what the smart cook would do and just made David’s version.

First the crust. Lots of butter. Everything in a stand mixer to start. Then onto a floured surface. Let it rest.

Pasteis de Nata Pasteis de Nata Pasteis de Nata

Roll it out. Seal it in plastic wrap again. Into the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Back out, cut into pieces. Line a pan, gently shaping the tart shells. (My kingdom for a set of tart molds! Next time.)

Pasteis de Nata Pasteis de Nata Pasteis de Nata

Now the filling. On the stove, couple of pans, lots of whisking.

Pasteis de Nata

Fill the tarts, bake, cool, dust with sugar and cinnamon.

Pasteis de Nata

I took my time, I was careful, and I’ll admit it wasn’t the easiest pastry I’ve ever made. But it turned out amazing.

 

How good are these really?

One person who tried them had to wipe a tear away after tasting them. Almost everybody closes their eyes and smiles after biting into one.

They’re that good.

Of course, I had to make them again a day later. My family of taste testers made them disappear plus they were so good I was sharing them with every passerby, friend, and stranger.

And they were even better the second time. A bit flakier maybe.

I can tell you this: practice. On some recipes it really helps and this is one of those. The road to Carnegie Hall and great Pastéis de Nata might be one and the same.

Pasteis de Nata

Let’s add this up.

We got to eat Pastéis de Nata.

We got to binge-watch Phil. Twice.

I got to nurture people by cooking.

All I can say is thank you, Phil Rosenthal.

Oh, and I can share our mmmMMMMmmm faces.

Pasteis de Nata face

9 thoughts on “Pastéis de Nata, an open thank you letter to Phil Rosenthal

  1. Just in time! I have been absolutely craving custard for weeks, which is something I just don’t even usually think of. Can’t wait to give these a try.

  2. I daresay it is too early to congratulate you on having survived your first year but my best wishes anyways and all the best for the next twelve months! Australian TV is overflowing with food shows of exceptional quality, both local and English generally – tho’ an ardent cook I am not a baker but naturally follow what delights are presented; Portuguese custard tarts appear regularly and the ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s resound loudly . . . methinks this will be a most popular recipe in your stable also . . .

    • Thank you, Eha. I daresay I was surprised at how good these were — and it takes a bit to do that. By the way, on your recommendation, I picked up a copy of Marcella’s memoir, Amarcord, from the local used bookstore and have made it in a couple of chapters so far. I had no idea of her roots! Thank you for the recommendation.

  3. What fun Bill. Like Eha, I also rarely delve into the baking world. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been a big dessert person. But, I can say with confidence that this recipe is a good one. First tasted Pastéis de Nata in Kitimat, BC-Canada and haven’t passed one by sense.

    • I like my desserts not too sweet, myself, not much for sugar for sugar’s sake, but for some things like this I must make an exception. 🙂 Thanks for the comment, Ron.

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