See that book? It’s Comer Bem – Eat Well, by a possibly fictitious ” Dona Benta”. It was the “Joy of Cooking” of the Brazilian home when I lived there, 40 years ago. Like the “Joy,” it provides recipes but also teaches measurements, temperatures, substitutions, and menus.
It’s meant to be the manual of the beginner cook, leading gently on to fine recipes. And like the “Joy,” most homes had a copy of it on a kitchen shelf. For all I know, it’s still sold in updated editions. My well-worn copy, complete with sort of livid-looking photographs, was published in 1969.
We used to refer to Dona Benta as if she were really the grandmotherly figure on the book’s cover:
“Dona Benta says never to cook fish with garlic.”
“Don’t care if she does, I’m putting garlic in.”
Looking at it four decades later, I recognize a retro style that presumes the reader to be a stay-at-home woman. Here, for example, is the heading of the chapter on seasonings and condiments. Arch advice for the Little Wife: No olvides que a veces más puede un guiso bien sazonado que el más sabio de los maquillajes. (“Don’t forget that sometimes a well-seasoned stew is more powerful than the most artfully applied makeup.”) Oy. But perversely, I love it.
Why a quote in Spanish for a Portuguese-speaking reader, I don’t know, but sprinkled throughout the book are quotes and phrases in French and English, too.
I was leafing through the book, enjoying the casual instructions (“add enough flour to make a dough you can roll out”) and looking for something interesting to serve with an eggplant soup I’ll be making tonight. And there were these cheese tartlets. Quejadinhas. A crisp, delicate pastry crust containing a savory cheese filling, devoured while still warm. Overcome by a wave of nostalgia – I’ve eaten plenty of quejadinhas in my time – I had to make them. Here they are.
Quejadinhas – Brazilian Cheese Tartlets
Makes 12 muffin-sized tartlets
Ingredients for Pastry:
1/3 cup hard cheese, grated. Parmesan is good; I used a local Kashkeval.
3 Tblsp. butter
4 Tblsp. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tblsp. flour. This is an annoying amount which I tried to measure into cups – it came out to 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup of flour. See what I mean? Easier to just keep track of of the spoonfulls as you measure.
Method for the Pastry Shells:
Grease a 12-mold muffin tin well.
Preheat the oven to 200°C – 400°F.
1. Mix the cheese, butter, milk, and salt in a medium bowl.
2. Add the flour by tablespoons, mixing occasionally till you obtain a soft, pliable dough that holds its shape. It may take more or less than the 12 tablespoons. You don’t want a stiff dough like for bread, rather a tender paste.
3. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface or a sheet of baking paper. Stretch it out with the rolling pin till it’s 1/4″ thin.
4. Cut out circles. I used a tuna-can ring, but realized that the resulting circle would be too small, so I just rolled each circle again to make it 4″ – 10 centimeters wide.
You can re-roll the unused parts to make new circles. Once you have your 12 circles, save any extra pastry to fix tears or build up shells that look low in the muffin tin.
Ingredients for Filling:
150 grams – just under 1 cup – grated cheese. Can be sharp and dry, like Parmesan, or heavier and milder, like Gouda.
1 cup milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
More grated cheese for sprinkling on top – if using a sharp, dry, light cheese, 4 Tblsp. will do.
Method for Filling:
Just mix it all up together.
Line the greased muffin molds with the pastry circles. They are now shells.
Fill each shell up to halfway with the cheese/milk/egg mixture.
Sprinkle a little more grated cheese over each filled shell.
Pop into the hot oven and bake for 18-25 minutes or until the tartlets are golden-brown.
Allow them to cool in the muffin tin and remove carefully.
They may be frozen and reheated in a hot oven for a few minutes. Best served warm, with cold white wine or beer.
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