I love empanadas. The “pan” part of the word comes from the word for bread in Spanish, and empanadas are basically stuffed bread pockets. That’s basically…they have many permutations and depending where you are from they might be made with corn dough, wheat flour, fried or baked. They may be stuffed with meat or chicken or seafood or vegetables. We also call them pastelillos in Puerto Rico, pastel referring to pies, much like meat pies are hand-held dough pockets in other places.
Regular readers know that my son and I are not big sandwich eaters, but empanadas actually do the same job and we love those. You can pack them up for a picnic, grab them on the run and eat them in the car, have them for an afternoon snack after school, serve them as appetizers with an aperitif when your guests walk in the door.
Every country seems to have a version of empanadas; Jamaican meat patties, Indian samosas, even Chinese dim sum (potstickers) could be called empanadas.
This year I want to explore the world of empanadas. My friend Ashley and my godson Sean have agreed to go on this journey with me (and calling them out here is my way of holding them to it). Ashley was my cooking buddy for this first go and took the picture of me rolling the dough.
For the first salvo, I am keeping it simple and close to home. I bought empanada pastry disks already rolled out and shaped from Goya (in the freezer section of most supermarkets around here) and used leftovers to make the stuffing.
My picadillo (highly-seasoned ground beef click here for one version or see alternate recipe below) was already in the freezer in a handy serving-size plastic thingy and was one stuffing. Then I banged together a quick broccoli filling, inspired by the bit of broccoli and ricotta I had in the fridge and the broccoli pastelillos at Kasalta, the famous bakery in my old stomping grounds of Ocean Park, San Juan, where you get fantastic wands of bread, but also apocalyptic meals, fine Spanish wines, and long days of seeing and being seen by the cognoscenti of the metro area. Owned by my friend, Galician Jesús Herbón, it is where President Obama stopped in for an epic medianoche sandwich and an impromptu meeting during a visit to the island.
So back to recipes. I will first instruct you on rolling, stuffing and frying the empanadas, and that will be followed by the two recipes I stuffed these first empanadas with. Again, I emphasize that I used bits and bobs and leftovers. I’ll get more purpose-driven as I get into other more “from-scratch” versions.
Empanada construction (makes 10)
Thaw one package of 10 Goya discos para empanadas (they will thaw in a couple of hours, so if you think you waited too long to take them out, as I did, fear not! they thaw pretty quickly)
You’ll need a rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle), a flat surface, vegetable oil for frying, and a big, high-sided pot. Prepare a plate lined with paper towels for draining.
Heat the oil in a deep sided pot to about 1/4 inch until loose but not smoking.
Roll out the disks just a bit (you don’t even need flour to prevent sticking; just leave the plastic separator sheet on the disk as you roll).
Spoon about of tablespoon of stuffing on one half. Fold it over and seal by pressing the tines of a fork along the edge (excellent kiddie job). Flip and do the same on the other side (it flattens the empanada for more even frying).
Put the empanada in the oil (which should sizzle softly or it is not hot enough). Cook about three minutes on each side, lowering heat as necessary. I like to use tongs to turn.
Place empanadas on paper towels to drain and cool. Wrap one end in paper towel and hand it to the first comer. Watch them disappear!
½ Tbs extra virgin olive oil
½ Tbs butter
1 tsp garlic, chopped
2 pinches hot red pepper flakes
1 Cup broccoli florets and stems (trimmed of hard outer skin), chopped small
A few Tbs water
¼ Cup ricotta cheese
Salt to taste
Heat oil and butter in a small skillet at medium high until loose and fragrant and foaming has subsided. Add garlic and cook for a minute. Add pepper flakes and broccoli, stir to coat, lower heat and cook for about ten minutes until tender, adding water as needed to prevent sticking and aid softening.
Lower heat to quite low and add ricotta, stirring until creamy and combined. Salt to taste and set aside until ready to stuff your empanadas.
(this is a big recipe that makes a lot. You will only need half of this or less to stuff ten empanadas, Freeze the rest for another day! Or halve the recipe)
2 lbs ground meat (beef; beef-veal-pork; turkey)
Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
one large yellow onion, finely chopped
one green pepper, finely chopped
Several tablespoons Sofrito
(with the Latin food in the international aisle of your supermarket OR click to make it more authentic and fresher. Use three cubes home-made)
generous sprinklings of Adobo
three cloves garlic, finely chopped (more if you like garlic)
half cup tomato paste/chopped tomato
(up to 16 ounces or more of peeled, chopped tomatoes if you’re going directly to a sauce)
2 oz Alcaparrado, including some of the brine (manzanilla olives, pimientos & capers;
Latin section of the supermarket)
salt, freshly ground black pepper; cayenne pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, brown the meat thoroughly at medium temperature and drain (or not).
Add olive oil, onion, green pepper, sofrito and adobo. Sautee until onion is translucent.
Add garlic; saute until garlic is soft.
Stir in tomato paste/chopped tomato.
Stir in alcaparrado with brine.
Add some water to come halfway up the ground beef mixture, bring to simmer, lower heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or more. Add more tomatoes/water depending on consistency desired. For empanadas you want it fairly dry and crumbly.
Check for taste; add more seasonings, particularly Adobo, if desired. This is meant to be VERY full-flavoured. You can add hard-boiled egg chunks to the finished picadillo if you like.