Mini-empanadas with mixed greens

Well, like it or not, it’s officially holiday season!  Even though there’s so much to love about the holidays, I just wish it didn’t all happen at once.  Do you ever have that feeling?  But one thing I truly look forward to is getting together with friends for a good, old-fashioned cocktail party, provided I get invited to one.  I love mingling and chatting with lots of different people and eating fun little noshes at my leisure.  However, if you ask me, I do think there’s a little room for improvement in the hors d’oeuvres arena.  (Maybe that’s why I don’t get invited to too many parties.)  You know what I mean, right?   Lots of baked brie with chutney, sad-looking crudite with not-homemade hummus, or tomato-basil bruschetta…in the winter!  We’re going to step it up a notch today, folks.  You need to bring an hors d’oeuvre to a party either this weekend or next, correct?  Although I have several fab party recipes on the site already, these empanadas are tied for my favorite with the Zucchini-Gruyere Tart, which is a winner every time.

Empanadas are these delicious little savory hand pies.    It’s almost like a small tart that has been folded over.  Whereas there are infinite fillings you can use, empanada pastry dough is usually stuffed with seasoned ground beef and fried.  We’re not doing any of that.  When I noticed a recipe for empanadas in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone using leafy greens and olives, I knew I had to try them.  I have tweaked the recipe over the years to make it simpler and sometimes I add finely diced precooked turkey sausage to the greens — delicious, I tell you.  My kids are crazy for them and I really don’t think they even know what they’re eating.

After my last class the Friday before Thanksgiving when I thought I might collapse, I realized that two months ago I had volunteered my house for a pot luck dinner the NEXT night because, you know, it seemed like a bonehead  good idea at the time.  Well, what was a good idea was that I offered to do a turkey since I would have a leftover demo bird from Friday’s class as well as an hors d’oeuvre, knowing full well that I could make these scrumptious little empanaditas in October and freeze them.

Daughter #1 and I had fun making them one afternoon when she had a day off from school.  You don’t have to make the pastry from scratch like I did.  I have seen prepared empanada pastry rounds in specialty markets, or you can cut out rounds from pie crusts.  But if you have ever made cut-out cookies, you can do this.  I normally just roll out the little rounds and leave them with imperfect edges, but I was surprised that my daughter wanted to take the time to use round cookie cutters to make them “prettier.”  If you don’t want or need to freeze the empanadas, you can roll out the rounds the day before and keep them well-covered.  You can also make your filling in advance and then assemble the empanadas before you bake them.  Let me just tell you right now, you should make these whether you’re party-bound or not and freeze them for a rainy day.  My kids will pull them out of the freezer and pop them into the toaster oven for an after school snack or to eat with a bowl of soup on the weekend.  You can even stick them in a lunchbox!  Do my good ideas ever end?  Can you tell I’ve had too much green tea today?!


Mini-Empanadas with Mixed Greens
Serves: makes 24 mini-empanadas
  • Empanada Dough:
  • 3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (you can sub out ½ cup with whole wheat pastry)
  • ¾ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks + 2 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ½ cup + 2 Tablespoons ice water
  • Filling:
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil or ghee
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 12 cups mixed chopped greens such as Swiss chard, beet greens, kale, spinach, and/or escarole
  • ⅔ cup shredded fontina cheese (optional)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 beaten egg + 1 Tablespoon milk
  1. Make the dough: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. With the machine running, slowly add the water through the feed tube and pulse until a ball of dough comes together.
  2. Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Use your hands to pat the dough into a disk. Wrap the dough with the parchment (or plastic wrap) and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Divide the dough into 24 pieces: first cut 8 equal wedges, like a pizza. Then cut each wedge into three pieces. Roll each piece into a 4-inch circle. Transfer to a sheet pan and refrigerate.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make the filling: Heat oil or ghee in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion, garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes. Saute until the onion is tender, about 4 minutes. Add the greens and sea salt and pepper to taste and cook until softened, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. If there’s a lot of moisture, drain some of the liquid.
  5. Add the cheese to the greens and taste for seasoning. Allow to cool slightly before filling the pastry.
  6. Place a spoonful of filling on the lower half of each dough circle, then fold the pastry over and seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until browned. (If you are baking these directly from the freezer, bake an additional 10-15 minutes.) Serve warm or at room temperature.
If you would like to add some precooked turkey sausage to the filling, take 4 (about 12 ounces) and diced them up. Add them to the pan with the onion, etc. Reduce the greens to 10 cups.

If you have a few tablespoons of leftover filling, save it the next day for an omelet. Yum!


Zucchini-gruyere tart

Do you remember the first cookbook you ever bought?  Not counting the Calling All Girls Party Book in second grade, I bought my first cookbook with my own money in 1987, the year I graduated from high school.  My Aunt Maria drove me out to one of her favorite gourmet food shops in the Hamptons on Long Island.  Loaves and Fishes was a darling little shingled cottage in Sagaponack and run by a mother-daughter team named Anna and Sybille Pump.  All these years I thought I was their biggest fan, but apparently I’m not the only Loaves and Fishes admirer.  The famous Ina Garten has adapted a recipe or two (or more) from Anna and even dedicated one of her cookbooks to her.

I basically taught myself how to cook from Loaves and Fishes. When The Loaves and Fishes Party Cookbook came out, I scooped it up and read it cover to cover.  Anna Pump taught me how to entertain with ease and it was from this book that I learned what I could prep in advance, an education that still serves me today.  Loaves and Fishes is still around.  I actually visited the cook shop in Bridgehampton last summer.  I wouldn’t say that the recipes in the book are the most healthful or that I even use many of them today, but this recipe for zucchini-gruyere tart from the first book is my hands-down favorite hors d’oeuvre ever.  It should be in the Hors D’oeuvre Hall of Fame.  I have been making it for 24 years and it has never failed me (even when I’ve used  zucchini from (shhhh!) Mexico when they’re out of season here.)  I have also made it with heirloom tomatoes instead of zucchini and it’s always a showstopper.

Manhattan Beach has the potluck thing down.  Last weekend my friends Kristy and Sarah hosted a lovely “small plates night” at Sarah’s home.  You MUST do this sometime.  Everyone brings an appetizer or a bottle of wine and has a fabulous time catching up and watching the sun set over the ocean (it helps that Sarah lives right in front of the Pacific.)  I brought the zucchini tart which I cut into 64 slightly-bigger-than-bite-size pieces and it vanished faster than the chardonnay, which is saying something.

Please don’t be intimidated by the pastry crust — if you’ve rolled out sugar cookie dough, you can do this.  But if you don’t want to, just buy 2 premade pastry crusts and fit it to the baking sheet.  Puff pastry would be another option here.  Every time I make it, I apply the tips I learned from my first books and I blind bake the crust the day before and leave it at room temperature.  Also the day before I shred the cheese, slice the zucchini, make the herb oil and refrigerate them all separately.  After working (i.e. cooking) all day and shuttling kids to their activities, all I needed to do before the party was assemble the tart and freshen up while it baked in the oven.  Now, go find an excuse to make this and then thank Anna Pump.

Zucchini-Gruyere Tart
Serves: yields approximately 100 1-by-2-inch pieces (I usually cut them larger to yield 64-72 pieces)
  • CRUST:
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or use all regular white flour)
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 12 pieces
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 small egg yolks
  • 5 Tablespoons cold water
  • 4 medium zucchini, about 1 ½ pounds
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ¾ pound Gruyere cheese, grated
  • ⅓ cup finely grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
  1. To make the crust, place the flour, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse 5 times. Add the egg yolks and pulse 2 more times. With the motor running, and the water through the feed tube. Process only until the dough begins to stick together. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and quickly form it into a ball. Wrap the dough in parchment and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Cut the zucchini diagonally into ⅛- inch slices and place them in a large bowl. (A mandoline makes this task very easy. You can do this the day before and refrigerate, covered.)
  4. Put the parsley, garlic, basil, and thyme in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Sprinkle with the pepper and salt and process until the herbs are chopped fine. With the motor still running, add the olive oil through the feed tube. (You can dot his the day before and keep refrigerated in an airtight container.) Pour the herb mixture over the zucchini slices and mix well.
  5. Roll out the pastry dough to a ⅛-inch thickness. Fit it into a 18-by-12-by-1-inch pan. Cover the pastry with parchment paper, including the corners. Pour pie weights over the parchment paper, filling the pan. Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Remove parchment and weights and bake the tart pastry for 5 minutes more. *
  6. Spread the mustard over the bottom of the crust. Distribute the cheeses over that. Arrange the zucchini in overlapping rows, covering the cheese. Pour whatever herb mixture is left in the bowl over the zucchini.
  7. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake the tart for 30 minutes more.
The tart pastry can be blind-baked up to the day before, cooled and left covered at room temperature until ready to fill and bake.