In late 2005, I spent a month visiting my sister in Argentina. She and her best friends were studying abroad in Buenos Aries for the year and I had recently returned to America heart broken after ending a relationship with a Spaniard. I was depressed and unemployed and my parents didn’t really know what to do with me, so they sent me to South America for some sisterly love, sun, steak, and Malbec. It was just what the doctor ordered!
One can’t visit Argentina without falling in love with the flaky and delicious empanada. The hand-held pastries are everywhere and made in so many different variations that they can suit virtually any tastebud. They can be baked and filled with ham and cheese or deep fried and stuffed with cinnamon, apples, and sugar.
When I returned stateside, I went on the hunt for the perfect empanada recipe. I tried countless dough recipes and even more fillings. When I finally found the perfect balance of crispy dough and oozing center, I made a million empanadas and served them at a lavish welcome back party for my sister and her friends. She and I were recently talking about this party and she pointed out that serving empanadas at a fiesta that honored a quartet of people who had just spent the past year of their lives eating empanadas probably wasn’t the best of menu choices. I agreed and lamented the weeks I spent looking for the ideal empanada recipe. For what is a quest without the prize to cherish later in life? Unfortunately, I can’t remember which recipe was my favorite! I think it was from an old Spanish cookbook, but I’m not one-hundred percent sure.
Now-a-days, I make empanadas the easy way: with puff pastry. This variation is for mushroom lovers. It highlights their pure unadulterated meaty and earthy flavor. You could throw some cheese into this mixture (manchego or aged cheddar or fontina), but I left it out because I was serving a few lactose intolerants. The wildly scrumptious mushroom mixture can be made a day or two in advance and the empanadas can be assembled the morning of an event. Be sure to keep them chilled in the fridge until you’re ready to bake them off.
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, diced
1/4 cup Sherry
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 package of puff pastry, thawed
Flour, for rolling out
- In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cooking, stirring with a wooden spoon occasionally to ensure the vegetables don’t brown too quickly, for 4 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms and stir to combine. Cook for 10-12 minutes until the mushrooms release their natural liquids and start to brown.
- When they begin to stick to the pan and get a little crusty, add the wine. Stir and let simmer for 2-4 minutes until the wine reduces down and the mushrooms become a thick mixture. Add the thyme and season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
- Roll the puff pastry out to make a large rectangle that is about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 3-inch circular cookie cutter, cut the dough into as many circles as possible.
- Scoop a heaping teaspoon of the mushroom mixture onto half of each circle of dough. Fold the dough over the filling to create a half moon-shaped pocket. Repeat with the remaining circles, re-rolling out the scraps until there is no more puff pastry left.
- Seal the edges by pressing the top to the bottom with the tines of a fork. Chill at least 30 minutes before baking.
- Preheat oven to 375°. Place empanadas on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake 25 minutes or until dough is golden. Transfer to serving platter and enjoy immediately.
Makes about 24 empanadas.