Sunday, May 23, 2021

Spring Empanadas...Ricotta with Spinach, Peas & Spring Onions

The empanada recipe I’m sharing today is technically season-less.  All of the ingredients are not only available year round…but they can almost always be found of good quality.  Baby spinach (in little 5 oz. “clamshells”) is ubiquitous….as are frozen peas and scallions/green onions.  But nothing is truly season-less.  Everything has a moment during the natural growing seasons when it is at its happiest and most abundant.  For these three ingredients, that moment is mid to late spring.

Spinach is always one of the first greens to show up at the farmers markets. Like most leafy greens, it disappears from the market stalls as the temperatures begin to go up.
  But I always look forward to that first local crop and enjoy it in tarts, pastas, pilafs, etc. before it vanishes until autumn.

Spring onions too are one of the first things to appear.
  I’ve always called scallions “spring onion wannabes” … because once you’ve tasted them and cooked with them, you know that scallions are nice (and like the clamshells of spinach, I’m grateful to be able to get them year round), but they lack the vibrancy and flavor of the local, in-season specimens. 

nd fresh peas….  They are so fleeting…and so special.  Sadly, unless you grow them yourself, the fresh ones can be starchy.  They are worth buying a bunch to freeze yourself if you come across some young and particularly sweet ones.  I may have mentioned before that one of the few things that I like from Trader Joe’s is their fresh peas.  They have them from about March through June.  They are delicious…sweet…and keep for quite a while (I’m mystified as to why).

This spring when I was trying to round out a multi-course menu for a family who wanted to eat mostly vegetarian food, an appetizer course featuring spinach and ricotta empanadillas came to mind.
  Peas and spring onions seemed like natural additions.  As it turns out, the peas are what really make these turnovers special—adding texture and giving an overall lighter result.

When I was testing the recipe I made some large (entrée sized) along with the appetizer sized ones.
  Both are good, but I loved the larger size.  One made a perfect spring dinner…along with a few crunchy radishes and an asparagus salad.  (I think any crunchy vegetable—as opposed to leafy—salad would be good.  Grated carrot salad comes to mind….)

The smaller ones are good too...but they tend to open up and ooze a bit in the oven.
  Not to worry though, it’s pretty easy to use a small spoon to push the filling back inside the turnover through the fissure from which it escaped.  No one to whom they are served will ever know.

The large and small ones both can be served with a sauce—labneh, plain or herbed sour cream, or green goddess dip/sauce are all good options.
  I tend to like sauces with savory turnovers, but as I was enjoying these, I discovered they were pretty tasty all on their own…so the sauce is definitely optional.

Spinach, Pea & Ricotta Empanadas

1 recipe Short Crust Pastry, divided into 4 equal
5 oz. stemmed spinach, washed
1 T. unsalted butter
2/3 c. sliced spring onions or scallions (white portions, plus a few inches of the green)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t. picked thyme, minced
1/2 c. (130 g.) whole milk ricotta
1/2 oz. finely grated pecorino
3 oz. coarsely grated whole milk, low-moisture Mozzarella
2/3 c. frozen peas, thawed (or fresh, blanched)
Salt & pepper
1 egg beaten with 1 T. water to make egg wash

Roll each chunk of dough into a thin round and trim to make a 7-inch round.  

Place the finished rounds on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to use.

Cook the spinach in the water clinging to the leaves in a covered pan.  When the leaves are wilted and tender, remove from the heat and cool.  Squeeze out the excess liquid and chop.

Melt the butter in a medium-sized sauté pan with a lid (you may use the same pan in which the spinach was cooked).
  Add the spring onions and garlic and a generous pinch of salt.  Stir to coat the spring onions in the butter.  Cover and reduce the heat and cook until the onions are tender—8 to 10 minutes.  Stir in the thyme. Let cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cooled spring onions, the spinach and the ricotta and mix until smooth.
  Work in the pecorino, mozzarella and peas (it’s ok if some of the peas get crushed).  Season the mixture with a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt and several grindings of pepper.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  

Spread the rounds of dough on the work surface.  Place a fourth of the filling (about 100g) on one side of each round of dough in an even thickness, leaving a one inch border.

Brush the edges with egg wash, fold the dough over and seal—you may do this with a fork, or fold the edges over and crimp.  

Spread the empanadas on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  If time, chill.  When ready to bake, brush them with the egg wash.  With a sharp knife, cut 2 or 3 vents in the top of each empanada.

Transfer to a 400° oven and bake until golden brown and crisp and a few bubbles are visible at the steam vents—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Let cool briefly before serving.  Serve with sour cream, Labneh or Green Goddess dip.

Miniature, hors d'oeuvres-sized empanadas (empanadillas)

Make 1 1/2 times the short crust pastry recipe (225g/8oz flour, 1/2 t. salt, 170g/6oz butter, 85g/5 to 6 T. ice water) and form into one large disc for chilling.  When ready to make the empanadas, roll out 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough on lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness.  Cut dough into generous 3-inch rounds.  Place a scant tablespoon of filling (12 g.) in the center of each round.  

Paint edges with egg, fold dough over filling and pinch to seal.

Gather the scraps and combine them with the next piece of fresh dough, rolling out and cutting as before.

Continue to roll out and cut in this manner, always incorporating some of the scraps into the fresh dough.  When done, spread the empanadas on parchment lined baking sheets and brush with more egg wash.  If time, chill.  Transfer to room temperature, parchment lined sheet pans before baking.  

Bake at 450° until golden brown—about 12 to 15 minutes.  Makes 32. (For a few pointers on rolling out small appetizer-sized empanadas, check out this post.)

Short Crust Pastry:
150 g. (about 1 1/3 c.) all-purpose flour
3/8 t. salt
114 g. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, sliced a scant 1/4-inch thick
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 3 T.. ice water over the flour/butter mixture.  Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary.  Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound.  Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps.  Continue until all of the dough is flat.  Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do.  Wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. 

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