Have you ever had an Empanada?
Well there is no time like the present! Try your hand at making these Cheesy Spinach Empanadas from Sandra Gutierrez’s book Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America.
Cheesy Spinach Empanadas
* Empanadas de Espinaca y Queso * Argentina *
These plump hand-held pies embellished by ropelike edges are stuffed with a hearty, creamy, and comforting filling. I first ate these empanadas in the Argentinean Embassy in Guatemala back in the 1970s. Years later, riding the subway in Toronto, Canada, I overheard two Argentinean cooks comparing notes on their spinach empanadas. I paid close attention. One lady claimed that adding a lot of onions kept the filling moist, while the other insisted that her secret was to add an abundant amount of cheese. This recipe combines the best of what they each had to offer. My big regret is never having had the chance to thank them for the free cooking lesson.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup (120 g) finely chopped white onions
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound (455 g) washed, drained, and chopped fresh spinach or baby spinach
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 21⁄2 cups (300 g) shredded mozzarella
- 13⁄4 cups (420 ml) whole milk ricotta
- 1⁄2 cup (60 g) grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 recipe Bread Dough (see below)
- Egg wash, made with 1 beaten egg and
- 2 teaspoons water
Makes 28 empanadas
Make the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet with high sides over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 20 seconds. Add the spinach in batches, stirring it in well (it will cook down to fit in the skillet). Cook until there is no liquid left and the spinach is cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes (the spinach will still be moist). Stir in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove the filling to a bowl and let it cool completely; cover and chill it for 2 hours. Stir in the mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan to combine; chill the filling again, covered, until ready to use.
Assemble the empanadas: After the filling chills, make the dough as directed on page 30 and let it rest, covered with plastic wrap, for 10 minutes at room temperature. Divide the dough into 28 equal pieces (about 2 ounces/55 g each). Roll each piece into a ball, folding the bottom of the dough onto itself so that the ends are at the bottom and the tops are smooth (the way you’d shape rolls). Place them on a lightly floured baking sheet and cover them with a clean towel; let them rest for 10 minutes. On a well-floured surface, press each ball slightly into a disc. Line a tortilla press with a zip-top freezer bag that has been cut open on three sides so that it opens like a book. Place a disc in the middle of the tortilla press and flatten it into a 5-inch (12-cm) round, about 1⁄8 inch (3 mm) thick (or roll it out with a rolling pin). Stack the discs with parchment paper in between to avoid sticking.
Line three baking sheets with parchment paper; set them aside. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling in the centre of each disc. Fold the bottom of the dough to meet the top of the disc, encasing the filling and forming a half-moon, and press the edges together well. Make 1/2-inch (12-mm) edges by pressing the rims between your fingers using the repulgue method (see below). The empanadas can sit at room temperature uncovered for 20 minutes before baking or can be refrigerated for up to 1 hour before baking.
Bake the empanadas and serve: Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Place the empanadas on the prepared pans and brush them with the egg wash. Bake the empanadas for 28 to 30 minutes, or until golden (rotate the pans in the oven halfway through baking, back to front and top to bottom, to ensure that all of the empanadas bake evenly). Transfer the empanadas to a cooling rack; let them cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Note: To freeze these empanadas, cool them to room temperature; set them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze them until solid. When solid, transfer them to zip-top bags or freezer boxes and freeze them for up to 4 months. Reheat them in a 350°F (175°C) oven until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.
Bread Dough recipe
This is the classic recipe for dough that produces bread-like empanadas with crispy edges and paper-thin centres. The dough is extremely elastic and gives a lot when filled, allowing copious amounts of scrumptious ingredients to be stuffed inside. You’ll want to start this dough long after the fillings are prepared and chilled, so that the empanadas can be filled shortly after the dough is made. This delicate dough must be cut while still warm. It’s important to add the right amount of water—too little, and the dough will be brittle, but too much and the discs will stick to each other, making them a nightmare to shape. Keep extra flour nearby, and dust each disc after shaping it with a bit of flour so they won’t stick together. I also stack the finished discs between pieces of waxed or parchment paper to prevent them from sticking together. If you’re an advanced empanada maker, you may prefer to fill each empanada after shaping each disc. Many South American bakers prefer beef lard or suet (grasa de pella) to pork lard, but it’s easier to find the latter; use either one in this recipe.
- 81⁄2 cups (1.1 kg) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 3⁄4 cup (180 ml) melted pork or beef lard (or vegetable shortening)
- 21⁄2 cups (600 ml) hot water (140°F/60°C)
- Parchment paper cut into 28 (5-by-5-inch/12-by-12-cm) squares
Makes 22 to 29 empanadas
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the centre. Add the lard and 2 cups (480 ml) of the water. Stir well with a spatula, until the dough starts coming together. Switch to your hands and add the remaining ½ cup (120 ml) water, kneading until the dough comes together (it will be soft and sticky). Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 1 to 2 minutes (adding more flour as needed), until the dough holds together in a ball and no longer sticks to your fingers. Return the dough to the bowl; cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes.
The Repulgue Method
Empanadas are sealed with a variety of methods. Sometimes the edges of the dough are simply pressed together, and sometimes the tines of a fork add decoration, while rustic folds are added to others. The most intricate design is created by the pinch-and-fold method used to seal South American empanadas, which creates rope-like edges. The method is called repulgue, because the thumb (pulgar) does most of the work.
To make the rope edges, you must form a rim (depending on the kind of dough you’re using, you’ll do this by either stretching it or by pressing it together), until it’s about ½ inch (12 mm) wide.
Starting at one end of the empanada and using your right thumb and index finger, lift the dough and roll a small section of dough inward, pressing it into the rim (the index finger will be more like a guide). Repeat by grabbing another small section of dough right next to where you pinched and, using your thumb and index fingers, roll it inward between your fingers and pinch it again into the rim, tightly. Keep doing this all around the edge and soon you’ll see a rope-like design taking shape as you go.
Argentinean cooks say that a true empanada has thirteen repulgues. The smaller the sections you pinch, the more detailed the rope design will be. If your edges look more like crimped pie dough than ropes, don’t worry. That means that you’re leaving too much space between the sections you’re rolling. Instead, I suggest that you let them overlap slightly onto each other as you roll. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be rolling and pinching in no time. For practice, use a napkin until you feel comfortable working with the dough.
This method works best with the Bread Dough and with store-bought hojaldrada empanada discs.
Text copyright c 2015 Sandra A. Gutierrez
Photographs copyright c 2015 Tina Rupp