Sit at a Cuban table and you could be in a sleek modern apartment in Miami, or you could be in Havana in an improvised corner of a modest abode that feels like it may crumble around you. Immigrants who leave the island have a wealth of product to work with while their family members who remain in Cuba use every bit of ingenuity they can to put out a meal. Yet both rely on that same table and taste memory to create and maintain identity.
Ana Sofia Peláez grew up in Miami in a Cuban household. When she moved to New York she had to use her own taste memory to recreate the dishes of her childhood. And now, along with photographer Ellen Silverman she brings those dishes alive in the book, The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History.
Read on for a recipe for Cuban natilla and check out Ellen’s photos here.
Reproduced with permission from The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History
Armed only with our grandmother’s list of ingredients with no indication of how she put them together, for years my sister Carmen and I took turns attempting her natilla to no avail. We’d come close but fall short of the smoothly rich custard she made so effortlessly. Finally, scribbled as a side note among her niece’s papers, I found the full recipe. Contrary to what I knew about making custard, the ingredients are beaten together cold then strained and simmered. With a wooden spoon in hand, my sister followed the new directions and suddenly there it was, just as we remembered it. The next morning, I was relieved to see the natilla still in the fridge, half expecting it to have disappeared again.
4 cups whole milk at room temperature
1 whole cinnamon stick
4 large egg yolks
One 2-inch strip of lime peel
1 cup sugar 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine the milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk until the mixture is well combined and there are no visible yolks.
Pass the milk mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Add the cinnamon stick and lime peel and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low, stir in the vanilla, and continue to stir until it coats the back of the spoon, an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside.
Pour the custard into individual bowls or ramekins while still warm. Sprinkle with cinnamon to taste. Bring the custard to room temperature then chill in the refrigerator until set, at least 2 hours. The custard can be kept chilled in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.