Empanadas for a Winter Weekend

Empanadas 2 Photo by Jessica Randazza

My first empanadas were a recipe from Argentina shared by Ana Rambaldi who never met a recipe she couldn't bake to perfection.  When I was planning recipes for BAKE! I decided to try some empanadas with a Mexican twist for the puff pastry chapter.  Mexican friends gave them the seal of approval and I included it in the book.  The ones pictured were made by my students at a class at ICE last Tuesday evening and I was happy to see how quickly they came together.  And since both the filling and the dough can be made a day or two in advance, they only take a few minutes to assemble.

These empanadas are filled with picadillo, a simmered mixture of ground beef, aromatics, and tomato puree, that's a standard in the Latino food world.  Picado means chopped in Spanish, as all the ingredients are.  Aside from its use as an empanada filling, picadillo is often served with rice and beans, not bad at all either...

 

Makes eight 6-inch empanadas

2/3 batch (1 pound) Quick Puff Pastry, see previous post below

PICADILLO

2 small (about 8 ounces total) Yukon Gold or boiling potatoes

1/2 large white or yellow onion (about 4 to 5 ounces), peeled and coarsely chopped

1 small red or green bell pepper (about 4 to 5 ounces), coarsely chopped

3 large cloves garlic, crushed, peeled and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons olive or mild vegetable oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 pound lean ground beef

3/4 cup tomato puree

3/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons capers in brine, rinsed and drained

3 tablespoons sliced pimento-stuffed green olives

1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder or crushed red pepper, or more or less to taste

One cookie sheet or jellyroll pan lined with parchment or foil

  1. Lightly flour the dough and place it on a floured surface.  Roll it to a 12-inch square.  Slide the dough to a cookie sheet and refrigerate it until firm, about 15 minutes. Cut the square of dough into two 6 x 12-inch rectangles and roll each to a 12-inch square.  Stack them on a cookie sheet with plastic wrap between and on top and refrigerate them until you are ready to form the empanadas.
  2. For the picadillo, put the potatoes in a small saucepan and cover them with water. Bring them to a boil over medium heat and boil for a minute. Slide the pan off the heat and leave the potatoes in the water until you need to add them to the picadillo – they’ll be about three quarters cooked when you need them.
  3. Put the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to chop finely, but not to a puree.
  4. Put the oil in a wide saucepan or Dutch oven with a cover and add the chopped vegetables. Cook over medium heat until they start to sizzle, then decrease the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and beginning to turn golden, about 20 minutes. Stir in the cumin and cook, stirring, for half a minute.
  5. Add the ground beef and use a wooden spoon to mash it into the vegetables, continuously jabbing the spoon downward into the meat so that it cooks in separate grains and not clumps. Continue jabbing and stirring until the meat is reduced to fine granules and is starting to sizzle in the pan, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the tomato puree, water, salt and vinegar and stir them in. Bring to a boil, then regulate heat so that the mixture simmers actively for about 10 minutes. If the liquid seems to be evaporating too quickly, decrease the heat.
  7. Peel and cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch dice. Add the potatoes, capers, olives and hot pepper to the pan and stir them in. Cook at a slow simmer until the potatoes are cooked through and tender and most of the liquid has boiled off, 15 to 20 additional minutes.
  8. Cool the picadillo completely before filling the empanadas.
  9. When you are ready to bake the empanadas, set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 400˚F.
  10. Cut each piece of chilled dough into four 6-inch (15-cm) disks, refrigerating them again as you cut them. Wrap and refrigerate the scraps for another use.
  11. Place one of the disks of dough in a floured surface and lightly flour it. Roll over the dough once away and back toward you to make a 7 1/2- to 8-inch oval. Brush some water on the edge of the oval closest to you and place about 3 tablespoons of the cooled filling on it. Fold the top part of the oval over to join the bottom edge and transfer the empanada to the pan. Use your thumb to press the two layers of dough firmly together, about 1/8 inch in from the edge. Continue with the remaining disks of dough and filling.
  12. Use the point of a paring knife to cut a 1-inch vent opening in each empanada over the thickest part of the filling. Bake the empanadas until they are deep golden and the filling is bubbling slightly, about 20 minutes.
  13. Slide the pan to a rack and cool the empanadas for 5 minutes before serving on a platter.

SERVING: Empanadas make a great lunch with a salad. They’re also good at room temperature or for a picnic. Cool them on a rack to keep them crisp if you want to serve them completely cooled.

STORAGE: You can assemble the empanadas and bake them later the same day, but they have to be eaten on the day they’re baked. Wrap and refrigerate any leftovers and reheat them at 350˚F for 10 minutes and cool them slightly before serving.

VARIATION: CHICKEN EMPANADAS

Substitute 1 pound of skinless boneless chicken thighs trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch dice for the ground beef. Cook the same way as above, stirring occasionally (no need to jab) after adding the meat to the vegetables. Before adding the potatoes, use 2 forks to shred the meat.