THE RECIPE BOX - Flan recipe is part of Portuguese tradition

THE RECIPE BOX - Flan recipe is part of Portuguese tradition

JOHNSTON — Sandy Perrotta grew up in Pawtucket as an only child and described herself as growing up fast. By the time she was 10 she was preparing family meals because both parents had businesses and were hardworking.

Alberto and Ivone (Sandy’s parents) had immigrated to the United States from Portugal, met in the workplace, and later married.

Sandy spent her formative years in Pawtucket. While she was a nursing student, she worked as a bartender at a restaurant called Ribs and Company in Johnston where she met her husband, Rob. They’ve been married for 17 years and have two children, Cassandra, 14, and Bobby, 11, and live in Johnston.

Sandy lost her mom to illness almost 12 years ago when she was pregnant with her son. “It was a very difficult time for me,” Sandy shared. But time helps to heal losses and now she fondly recalls the traditions that she and her mother shared.

One of those traditions is making flan. “Flan is always at a celebration,” Sandy said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a wedding, shower, or holiday, this basic flan recipe is always there at Portuguese celebrations.” It is the equivalent of cheesecake to other people, it’s not seasonal, just special. Her Portuguese relatives are quite fond of rice pudding, too, and it is still her father’s favorite.

“My mom never wrote down the recipe,” she said, “so after she passed, my Aunt Ermelinda would come to help me make it.” This is the original recipe, some people add coffee or orange flavorings, she added, but this was her mom’s basic flan recipe for everything.

A quick online search shows that in Spanish-speaking countries and in U.S., flan refers to crème caramel. This was originally a Spanish usage, but the dish is now best known in the United States in a Latin American context.

Crème caramel is a variant of plain custard (crème) where sugar syrup cooked to caramel stage is poured into the mold before adding the custard base. It is usually cooked in a bain-marie (on a stove top) or in the oven in a water bath, which is the method that Sandy’s mother used.

Turning out larger dishes requires care, as the custard easily splits. Larger dishes also require more care to avoid undercooking the interior or overcooking the exterior.

Sandy teaches Jazzercize class in Smithfield to a group she calls, “my ladies” three days a week, and those days start at 6 a.m. She then heads out to her her job as a nurse practitioner, but not before readying her two children for school.

Meals for this busy family often involve the Crock Pot or the grill. A favorite go-to recipe for the Crock Pot is marinated steak tips. “I use what I call my Portuguese spice; salt, pepper, garlic, a little paprika, Worcestershire sauce and splash of wine or beer, then let them cook slow,” Sandy said.

For Sandy, sharing this recipe and her story was a little emotional. The sense of love and loss, of hope and sharing her traditions was very present. But food and recipes are so much more than a list of ingredients, it is what ties us to family present and past, and memories are the staple ingredient.


Mom’s Flan

Ingredients:

Flan

12 eggs

12 tablespoons of sugar

1 liter of whole milk

Caramel

1/2 cup of sugar

Directions:

1. Place oven rack in middle position, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Custard: Mix the eggs and 12 Tbsp. sugar, beat well with an electric blender, add the milk and continue to beat until the caramel is ready.

3. Caramel: In a saucepan, heat sugar until it turns golden brown. In a warmed bundt pan paint the interior with the caramel. Once the caramel is ready in the Bundt pan add the custard mixture to the pan.

4. In a roasting pan, place the Bundt pan (with mixture in it) and add water to reach less than halfway up the sides of the Bundt pan. Bake until set, about 1 hr. and 15 minutes - or so.

5. Remove the Bundt pan, let cool then refrigerate for about 6-8 hours. Before serving run the tip of a knife around the inside of the Bundt pan to loosen the mold. Then flip into a deep serving dish and enjoy!

Sandy Perrotta, of Johnston, serves her mom’s favorite special occasion Flan.