Spinach and Cheese Empanadas

I’d never heard of empanadas before, but I stumbled across this recipe and thought I’d give it a try. Empanadas are basically like a mexican version of a cornish pasty, but with lighter pastry and zingier fillings. They taste absolutely delicious!

 

INGREDIENTS

The miracle ingredient in these empanadas is the pastry. Essentially, this recipe uses a similar process to shortcrust pastry, but the addition of sour cream really makes it much lighter and flakier. It takes a while to make properly, but that’s because all the best pastry is always made as cold as possible, so it has to be chilled in between the making and rolling out stage. If you want to speed up this part of the recipe because you have an urgent empanada craving, you can buy shortcrust pastry, or freeze your pastry for about 20 minutes.

The pastry can be made easily in a food processor, but if you’re doing it by hand you want to learn how to ‘rub in’. Rubbing in is a process where you bind flour to fat by rubbing the mixture between your hands. The butter should be as cold as possible, so to stop it from heating up when you’re rubbing in you just use your fingertips, picking up the butter and flour and rubbing your fingers together so that it combines and drops back into the bowl. This creates little spheres, and generally the smaller the spheres of butter the better your pastry will be. If you shake the bowl from side to side, all the larger bits of butter will rise to the surface so you can rub those in better – this is something my grandma taught me when I was tiny!

 

HISTORY

The word ‘empanada’ comes from the Spanish ‘empanar’, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. Though modern empanadas are associated with American Latino countries, especially Mexico and Argentina, they actually originate from Spain and Portugal; a Catalan cookbook published in 1520 has a recipe for seafood empanadas. They are similar in concept to a samosa, or a calzone – meat and/or vegetables wrapped in pastry that can be made cheaply and eaten with various fillings, to suit the taste and lifestyle of working class people. Though the original empanadas were large, nowadays we tend to think of them as hand-sized individual pies that look very similar to cornish pasties. It makes them more portable and more practical to eat at lunchtimes!

 

WHAT YOU NEED

Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal, free range and organic ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and good farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!

For the dough:

275g organic plain flour

225g cold unsalted butter, cubed

150ml sour cream

Pinch of coarse salt

For the filling:

1 onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

100g chestnut mushrooms, diced

500g frozen spinach

1 glass white wine

150g ricotta

 

METHOD

  1. In a food processor (or by hand with a bowl if you prefer), combine the salt and flour. Whizz in (or rub in*) the cold butter until the mixture has formed very tiny spheres – basically you want as much of the butter to be coated with the flour as possible. Move the bowl back and forth quickly a few times across the surface top. This should bring any larger lumps to the surface, which you can then rub* into little spheres.
  2. Tip the flour and butter mixture into a large mixing bowl and add in the sour cream, mix by hand until it forms a smooth dough. Cover in cling film and chill for 2 hours, or overnight. If you’re in a rush you can freeze it instead for about 20 mins!
  3. Prepare the filling in advance. On a medium heat, fry the onions in a generous amount of olive oil. Once the onions have softened, add a pinch of salt and the garlic and mushrooms. Cook down until the mushrooms have released their water and started to brown.
  4. Turn the heat high, add a splash of wine and cook it off. Add in the frozen spinach and cook it down until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. When it’s cooked, turn off the heat and let it cool completely.

 

*Rubbing in is a process where you bind flour to fat by rubbing the mixture between your hands. The butter should be as cold as possible, so to stop it from heating up when you’re rubbing in you just use your fingertips, picking up the butter and flour and rubbing your fingers together so that it combines and drops back into the bowl.

 

You can do the prep above in advance, even a day before. The next steps are how to assemble and cook the enchiladas.

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly flour a work surface and divide your dough into 8 pieces, roll each piece until it’s about 20cm in diameter. For each piece, add a spoonful of spinach mixture to half of the dough, leaving a 1-2 cm gap around the edge. Brush the edge with egg wash and fold in half, sticking the two edges together. Roll the edge up towards the filling and press lightly around the edge with a fork to seal it.
  2. Place some greaseproof paper on a baking tray and carefully transfer the empanadas to the tray. Brush with egg wash and bake for 25 mins, or until the top turns a golden deep brown. Serve hot or cold!

Prep Time: 45 mins prep time, 2hrs cooling, 15 mins assembling the empanadas

Cooking Time: 20 mins

Serves: 4-8 (depending on whether you eat one or two each!)

 

ADAPTATIONS

LF – use margarine and lactose free cream cheese instead of ricotta

GF – try making it with gluten free flour, I’m not sure how this will turn out but I’ll give it a go at some point and post a link!

V – this dish is naturally vegetarian

Ve – use margarine and a vegan cheese instead of the butter and flour

 

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