Grandma Clari's empanadas

By • June 8, 2011 • 31 Comments

29 Save


Author Notes: All day I have been buffeted by a terrible nostalgia for everything Argentine and long gone, for my grandmother’s beautiful and varied cooking, for the shape of her fingers (one bent due to a kitchen mishap, another with its tip sliced off,) for the all-encompassing feeling of arriving at her kitchen surrounded by cousins. I blame all this on my old friend Hernán, who last night for no earthly reason posted a shameless list of classic Argentine hits from the mid-eighties.
My grandmother Clari was the sort who sent you to the vegetable patch to unearth potatoes if you wanted gnocci for lunch, and who all but burnt our small flat down when, on a visit once to Geneva, and wanting me to eat proper, home-made dulce de leche, set the big Le Creuset pot on a low fire and settled in for a nap. She died ten years ago, and I’ve been missing her awfully.
It’s easy to get really great empanadas on almost any Buenos Aires block, and in the past decade regional empanadas (especially those hailing from Tucumán, Salta and Mendoza) have really gussied up the offerings-- but nothing quite has the flavor of Clari’s home-made empanadas. I have a tiny black notebook in which she wrote out some recipes for me, and the only thing that stands out, possibly, apart from the alchemy and other ethers, is the combination of flavours created by combining plumped raisins, green olives and cumin, and the specific texture and juiciness of the hand-cut beef. Don’t take a short-cut on this step. In terms of the effort you’ll put into it it’s really not a big deal, but the results are incomparable to ground beef. If a shortcut is absolutely necessary here make it by using pre-made dough for the empanada rounds. It won’t be the same but it will be good enough, and not everyone has access to flaky beef back fat. But I really wouldn’t bother to make these with ground beef.
Clari baked her empanadas, and they’d emerge from the oven steaming and almost juicing over, just waiting for the first bite. But if anyone has a preference for frying I’d say, go for it. It’s got to be a great take on these. I recommend a nice Malbec and a late afternoon breeze to accompany the empanadas.

Buen provecho!

NOTE: You can play with the amounts of cumin, corriander, oregano and pimentón to come up with your own best flavour.

The images are of my grandmother's kitchen, her standing in front of the house (sometime in the 50's, I'm guessing) of our wood burning empanada and pizza oven, and a generic image of empanadas.
nogaga

Serves lots

Dough for empanadas

  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 8 1/2 ounces flaky beef fat, rendered and cooled, or other fat, or oil
  • 8 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Filling for empanadas

  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 2 pounds spring onions
  • a little over half a pound green olives
  • 2-3 tablespoons rendered and cooled beef fat
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 medium sized onion
  • 1 teaspoon demerara sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 pound excellent fillet of beef
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet pimentón
  • salt and pepper
  1. For the dough: mix the flour, salt and cooled rendered fat. Add water as you mix the ingredients, until the mass holds together and becomes a smooth dough. Kneed only until it holds its own shape well, wrap in plastic wrap and allow an hour to rest at room temp. When you're ready, divide into manageable portions and roll out into a thin layer, 2 or 3 millimeters thick. Cut into 8 to 10 cm discs. Keep these disks humid by stacking them with with plastic wrap between each disk and covering the entire pile. You can refridgerate while making the filling.
  2. For the filling: First, the mise en place: Hydrate the raisins in water or red wine and set aside. Remove the pits from the green olives, dice, and set aside. Boil the eggs for about 8 minutes, cool, peel and chop and set aside. Finely chop the beef into thin, small slices ressembling what you might be served at a fine Parisisan bistro if you asked for a good beef tartae, a pile of dsticts beef shavings far from a mash. Please enjoy this last step thoroughly!
  3. Finely chop the spring onions, onion and deveined green pepper. Melt the rendered beef fat in a large pot and begin to gently soften the onions and pepper. You do not want them in any way to crisp. Crush the corrander seeds, and add them along with salt, pepper, cumin and oregano. Add tomato paste and sugar.
  4. Ad the beef and mix while it begins to cook, until it loses its raw colour. Add the olives and raisins.
  5. Add chopped cooked eggs and pimentón, mix very gently and check that the spicing is to your taste. Allow the filling to cool before forming the empanadas.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 400 F. Remove dough discs from fridge, allow to reach room temperature. Place a little more than a tablespoon of filling on one side of each disc and fold the other half over it, sealing the edges with water and neat folds, as if you were crimping a pie.
  7. These are best made on a pizza stone, but use what you've got. If you are using a plain metal oven tray, I'd recommend sprinkling with some polenta before placing the empanadas on top. These normally need to bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, and emerge succculent and piping hot.
Jump to Comments (31)

Comments (31) Questions (0)

Default-small
Default-small
Me

over 3 years ago wssmom

I love the headnote as much as I love the recipe! Beautifully done ....

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Thank you, wssmom!

52

over 3 years ago pauljoseph

One of my favorite recipes

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

thank you, pauljoseph!

Dsc_0675-x2a

over 3 years ago Sagegreen

It is a bit dangerous to read this recipe in the morning, because you will just be craving it until lunch! This recipe makes me want to travel to Argentina, too. What a great history and recipe.

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Thank you Sagegreen! Hope you satisfy that craving!

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Sounds like a great place to hang out! (If you're still buying meat from an Argentine butcher the cut you're looking for for these empanadas is "lomo.")

Zester_003

over 3 years ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

I'm a great admirer of Argentine foods so I can't wait to try this. I used to buy my meat from an Argentine market called El Gaucho in Redondo Beach. The place also functioned as a sort of social club for Boca Juniors fans.

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Enticing it is!

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Thank you for the lovely comment!

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Thank you for the lovely comment!

Dscn2212

over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Count on it, and thank you so much!

Dscn2212

over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Count on it! And thank you so much!

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Beautiful memories! These empanadas sound wonderful. I tend to fill mine with all sorts of crazy experimental things, but I'm still a sucker for this particular traditional filling. Every time I have it I'm struck by what an enticing combination of flavors it is.

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you for sharing such a delicious-sounding family recipe. I love your beautifully written headnote -- it brings your grandmother vividly to life. I too was influenced by the cooking of my grandmothers, and I miss them terribly. Your recipe directions are lovely -- I especially like how you say the beef should be cut similar to beef tartare in a Paris bistro -- definitely NOT ground beef! And what lovely photos. Your kitchen is adorable, and I am coveting your wood oven!

Jc_profilepic

over 3 years ago Sadassa_Ulna

This is beautiful!

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Thanks :)

036

over 3 years ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Wow - I love everything about this - the story, the flavors, the directions, the end result.

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Thank you!

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

These sound incredible! Your headnote just beckons for them to be made. Thanks for sharing part of your family history with us.

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

I'm glad you're feeling beckoned, hardlikearmour!

Dscn2212

over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

"they'd emerge from the oven steaming and almost juicing over" has to be one of the greatest descriptive phrases seen on food52 recently. What a lovely story, beautiful photos, and fantastic food. I'd love to know if you build your wood oven.

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Thank you, boulangere! I did not personally build the oven (I wish!) A neighbor of my grandmother's who was an all round workman and knew how to build pretty much everything built it.

Dscn2212

over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I seriously lust for one. Is there a chance you have more photos of it?

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

I will search through the family archives. If you haven't heard back from me in a week or so, remind me!

Img_7818

over 3 years ago EmilyC

What a great recipe and story. Your instruction for hand-chopping the beef makes a lot of sense...so much more flavor and texture than pre-ground beef.

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Yeah, I think the beef is key. It has to be really fine beef, and lovingly hand chopped. No way around it ;) Thank you for the comment EmilyC!

3-bizcard

over 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I second that, the story is wonderful and the empanada's sound fantastic. I love th picture.

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Thank you sdebrango!

Summer_2010_1048

over 3 years ago Midge

What lovely memories. Sounds like a killer recipe too!

Port2

over 3 years ago nogaga

Thank you, Midge! I hope you get to try it.