Along with a whole other set of mild, borderline addictions (like kombucha, smoked fish, and eating pate for breakfast…hey now, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!) I have a pastry dough problem. It’s not so much a problem with eating it – though there are very few things in this world that taste worse when delicately cradled in flaky dough. My addiction is to making it (and then I push it on others because one can really only eat so much pastry dough before one begins to take on the look of a stuffed turnover oneself. Not that I don’t also eat plenty myself in the process. And love it.).
Many people see a recipe that calls for making a pie crust, or a tart crust, or any other pastry dough and they quickly turn the page, banishing thoughts of how tasty it sounded from their minds because they are unwilling to confront the process. Or they turn to Pillsbury for help. I was one of those people up until a few years ago. But, one intrepid day I decided I would try it. The crust didn’t turn out all that fabulous, but it was good, and painless enough that I was willing to try again. Then I tried again, and again, and soon I found myself envisioning everything in my refrigerator wrapped up in a tart, just so I could get one more hit of the dough making process.
I love the feel of rubbing flour and butter together. I love the chilly weight of the dough in your hand when you take it out of the fridge. I love the dusty flour that puffs up into the air as you roll the dough out, and the malleability of it as you press back together any cracks that emerge. I used to use wax paper to roll dough out, but no more! It’s straight onto a lightly floured surface for me. I want real contact with my dough. I’m verging on becoming a dough masochist, seeking out the trickiest, most finicky doughs to try. Give it a little practice and you’ll be there too.
These empanadas have one of the easiest doughs I make, however, which makes them a good place to start. Or a good place to revisit…frequently. How can you say no to empanadas?! Golden, piping hot, miniature pastries stuffed with all manner of savories. They’re perfect for appetizers or for tapas. And you should absolutely be serving tapas right now because as far as I can tell, they are very now. We’ve been invited to more tapas parties lately than you could fit in a breadbox! And, every new restaurant in town that I read about seems to be serving tapas, and not just of the Spanish variety, but Japanese tapas, Thai tapas, American tapas… If you want to attract the tired, the hungry, the chic, the heading out for some food and drinks after work masses, tapas appear to be the way to go. And empanadas are classic tapas fare.
You can stuff them with all sorts of things. The most traditional versions from Argentina contain ground beef, hard boiled egg, olives, and allspice, while other versions may have cheese, vegetable sautees, or even sweet fillings. These chorizo empanadas have an unexpected and enchanting blend of flavors from spicy to salty to juicy to sweet to pungent. I made them quite awhile ago now, but we’ve been talking about them ever since. I first made them because I had some chorizo around, chorizo that I had bought because I was sad.
I had one of those days where sometime around mid-afternoon, you are hit with a light wave of melancholy that’s drifting by, not attached to anything in particular. Normally I don’t recommend either retail therapy or turning to food for little passing spells of sadness. But, that day I decided to try to clear my head with a walk and the walk brought me past a favorite specialty food shop. I went in just to poke around and look. I came out with some chorizo and some rather expensive pate (for breakfast!) in my hands, and a rediscovered smile on my face. Sometimes it works, I guess.
Anyhow, I decided I would make empanadas with the chorizo, but instead of more standard chorizo pairings, I threw in a set of ingredients that I had had before in a chorizo breakfast sandwich (minus the fried egg). The combination of piquant, smokey chorizo with sweet peppers and onions, potent sage pesto, tangy creme fraiche, and peppery arugula seems like it should create an overwhelming cacophony of aggressive flavors. But, somehow it works. It’s Wagnerian instead of cacophonous. The powerful, unique flavor of each component melts into the others to create a flavor that, while undeniably bold and hearty, seems well balanced and will leave you licking your lips and looking for another.
You’ll want to make the dough again too. Or maybe you’ll feel ready for something a little trickier.
Chorizo empanadas (makes 18)
- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cold butter, cut up into pieces
- 1/3 cup ice water
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 egg, for the glaze
- 1 1/2 tablespoon water, for the glaze
- olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 6 ounces dried Spanish chorizo, finely diced
- 1 cup roasted red pepper, finely chopped
- several handfuls of arugula (2-3 cups), chopped
- 2 ounces sage leaves
- 2 ounces pine nuts
- 1 large clove of garlic
- 2/3 cups olive oil (plus a little more if needed)
- 2 ounces grated Pecorino Romano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche
- In a food processor, pulse together the dry ingredients for the dough. Then quickly pulse in the butter until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Add in the beaten egg and ice water, and vinegar pulse until everything comes together to form a dough. Then scoop the dough out (don’t cut yourself on the food processor blade – it happens!) and form it into a ball. Knead it a few times on a lightly floured surface, flatten it into a disc, cover it with plastic wrap, and chill for an hour in the refrigerator. You can also make the dough by hand with rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers until you have a course meal. Then, quickly stir in the egg, ice water, and vinegar with a fork until it just combines into a dough.
- Heat a couple of splashes of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion and cook for a couple of minutes until it becomes translucent. Then, turn the heat down to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are well caramelized, about 10 minutes. Scrape out of the pan into a bowl.
- Add the chopped chorizo to the pan and cook for about 3-5 minutes over medium, until sizzling and lightly crisped on the outside. Transfer the chorizo to the bowl with the onion and wipe the pan clean.
- Add just a tiny amount of oil to the pan, then add the roasted pepper, and arugula and cook for just a minute, until the arugula is wilted. Add to the chorizo and onions, stir in salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
- In the bowl of a mortar and pestle (this can also be done in the food processor – if you’ve gotten around to cleaning it since making the dough), pound together the sage leaves, pine nuts, garlic clove, Pecorino, and salt. Little by little, smash in the olive oil, until you have reached a chunky pesto consistency. Stir about half of this into the creme fraiche. Taste, and if you’d like stronger sage flavor, stir in a bit more. (The rest you can reserve for drizzling on top of some other treat.)
- When you’re ready to make the empanadas, preheat your oven to 400F. Divide the dough into 18 equal pieces (I generally do this by dividing it in half twice, then into thirds) and roll each piece into a ball. Then, on a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into about a 4 inch circle (maybe a bit smaller).
- Spread each circle with a layer of the sage-creme fraiche mixture, leaving a space around the edge that’s between 1/4-1/2 inch. Then, scoop a nice spoonful or two of the chorizo mixture into the middle of each.
- Fold the dough in half to make little half-moons, using a little water to moisten the edges and help them to seal. Then, press the edges with the tines of a fork. Place the empanadas on two parchment lined baking sheets. Whisk together the egg and water for the glaze, and lightly brush each of the empanadas with the mixture.
- Bake each sheet of empanadas for 15-20 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes. Then, serve warm.