FOOD & ENTERTAINING

Friday Night Bites: Cheesy Spinach Empanadas

Friday Night Bites: Cheesy Spinach Empanadas
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Empanadas have all the elements of the perfect snack. The soft, doughy exterior and vast array of potential fillings (spinach! Cheese! Beef!) render them hearty enough to hold you over until dinnertime, but not too heavy as to completely spoil the main meal. Sadly, for most, the pint-sized pies aren't all that readily available—often reserved to street fairs and frozen food aisles. No longer. Thanks to Latin American chef Sandra Gutierrez's new book Empanadas: The Handheld Pies of Latin America ($16; amazon.com), you can MYO at home.

Empanada Book
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The 176-page tome includes recipes for all the empanada configurations you could possibly think of, including Hearts of Palm Empanadas, Green Tomatillo Chicken Stew Empanadas, and even Caramel-Apple Empanadas for dessert. After considerable deliberation, we decided to attempt the Cheesy Spinach Empanadas, a recipe that Gutierrez admittedly retrieved by eavesdropping on two Argentinean cooks while riding the subway in Toronto. The main takeaway? Add a lot of onions and an abundant amount of cheese. 

Read on for Gutierrez's free cooking lesson.

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Cheesy Spinach Empanadas

Makes: 22 to 29 empanadas

Bread Dough Ingredients

8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3/4 cup melted pork or beef lard (or vegetable shortening)
2 1/2 cups hot water
Parchment paper cut into 28 (5-by-5 inch) squares

Bread Dough Directions

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center.
2. Add the lard and 2 cups of the water. Stir well with a spatula, until the dough starts coming together.
3. Switch to your hands and add the remaining 1/2 cup water, kneading until the dough comes together (it will be soft and sticky).
4. 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.
5. Return the dough to the bowl; cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes.

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Filling Ingredients

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped white onions
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 lb washed, drained, and chopped fresh spinach or baby spinach
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 3/4 cups whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Egg wash, made with 1 beaten egg and 2 tsps water

Filling Directions

1. 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.
2. 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).
3. 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.
4. Stir in the mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan to combine; chill the filling again, covered, until ready to use.

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Assembling the empanadas

1. After the filling chills, make the dough as directed below and let it rest, covered with plastic wrap, for 10 minutes at room temperature.
2. Divide the dough into 28 equal pieces (about 2 oz). 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).
3. 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.
4. 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 to 5-inches round, about 1/8 inches thick (or roll it out with a rolling pin).
5. Stack the discs with parchment paper in between to avoid sticking.
6. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper; set them aside.
7. Place 2 heaping
tbsps of the filling in the center 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 edges by pressing the rims between your fingers (pictured 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.

Empanadas
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Bake and serve: Preheat the oven to 450°F. 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.

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