I’ve never been to South America, nor to Spain. My first encounter with an empanada (from the Spanish verb empanar: to wrap or coat in bread) happened when I was living in Los Angeles twenty years ago. I bought one from a street vendor at Venice Beach. While the memory of the vendor is cemented by his bare chest, goanna tattoos and plats, my recollection of the empanada lingers as one I’ve never been able to repeat. The combination of a thin, lardy pastry filled with the most gorgeous, spicy meat concoction was close to heavenly.
My memory was prodded this weekend leafing through Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Table. Her recipe for spicy pork empanadas is in turn inspired by two encounters of her own: one in Spain—with a blend of cod fish and egg wrapped in a delicate pastry enhanced with a dash of fino sherry—and the other in Beunos Aires, Argentina—a spicy beef filling encased in a much more robust pastry made with lard.
With my trust more in Stephanie than in me, I decided to give them a go. The result may not have been as heavenly as I remember, but these are seriously good. The polenta blended with the flour and dusted on the bench top makes the pastry almost crisp to the bite. And the filling is a moist and complex blend of tastes that works a treat. The recipe is not too hard and certainly worth a try.
Here’s what you’ll need
For the empanada dough
- 200 grams of plain flour
- 50 grams of polenta
- Seal salt
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 40 grams of melted butter
- 2 tablespoons of fino sherry
- 60 mils of water
For the filling
- 60 mils of olive oil
- 250 grams of minced pork
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 100 grams of preserved piquillo peppers, drained and roughly chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, ground using a pestle and mortar
- ½ teaspoon of hot chilli paste
- 1 tablespoon of homemade tomato sauce or a good quality passata
- 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- A pinch of sea salt
- 1 egg, lightly whisked
Here’s what you do
To make the dough
- Combine the flour, polenta and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Mix together the olive oil, butter and sherry and add to the flour mixture.
- Work the combined ingredients together with your hands, adding in the water as needed, until it forms a ball and comes away from the edges of the bowl.
- Transfer the dough to a benchtop dusted with flour and knead it for a minute or so.
- Wrap the dough in plastic film and set aside to rest for an hour while you make the cool the filling.
To make the filling
- In a large, heavy-based frypan, heat half the olive oil.
- Add the mined pork and stir with a wooden spoon, cooking the mince until it is evenly cooked, even slightly browned.
- Tip the mince into a bowl and set aside.
- Add the remaining oil to the frypan, and saute the onions, piquillo peppers and garlic over medium heat for three minutes or so.
- Add in the parsley, fennel seeds and chili paste and cook for a few more minutes.
- Add in the minced pork, tomato sauce or passata, paprika and salt, and cook for a further five minutes, stirring as you do.
- Set aside to cool a little.
To construct the empanadas
- Preheat the oven to 220C.
- Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
- Dust the benchtop with polenta.
- Divide the dough into twelve even portions and roll each portion into a disc about 12 centimeters across.
- Divide the pork filling evenly between the discs.
- Brush the edges of each disc with the egg wash.
- Fold over each disc into a half moon shape.
- Seal the edges of each empanada with a fork and brush each one generously with egg wash.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
Cool a little before serving. The filling may be hot!
I served mine with a chunky tomato salsa.My son added some sour cream to his. Of, course, they taste great just as they are.