Caprese empanada or handpies /turnovers, call them what you may, but these are sheer parcels of delight! A very versatile appetizer or snack that can be frozen for upto 3 months if needed, can be baked or fried, sweet or savory and served with a range of dips. Here I have stuffed these with the classic caprese filling of mazzarella cheese, tomatoes, basil and a little bit of shallot and served these mouth watering parcels with mint gremolata.
“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
So yes, first day of Spring is here and over, and now we are officially celebrating spring. Although it feels summer in India at a scorching 43 C already! And there was snow in Manhattan!! What’s happening to the world?? We have snow in spring and hailstorms in winter. Its all crazy. But to my heart and mind, there is something about spring that evokes feelings of joy, irrepressible joy. May be its due to the fact that while growing up this was the time the schools were closed, vacation starts and we invariably went away for our family vacation. Some years it would be a cultural journey to the deeper , hilly areas of Southern India, the Vindhya and Deccan range rising up imposingly in front of us. Other times, it would be to the fun beach town of Goa, where the only things we wanted to do was play in the beach, make sand castles and go on those banana boat rides!! Remember those?? They were the cool thing to do when I was a teenager. Now its under sea walk. One year we would pack up and leave for the cooler mountains of Himachal and Kashmir, and other times we lost ourselves in the history of kings and queens and the unparalleled beauty of Rajasthan.
Some years though, my parents didn’t take us anywhere new. Instead we packed our comfortable best and made for my granny’s home. As much as I loved travelling and seeing India with my parents, I really looked forward to visiting my nani ( grandma, mom’s mom). She was a beautiful lady, sprightly for the tiny delicate package that she came in. But with such infectious joie de vivre that it was downright impossible to sulk or stay mad in her presence. Her smile, her stories, the way she used to lovingly apply oil in my hair are still fresh in my mind and I am sure its a feeling I will take to my grave. Her love for us was simply all encompassing. And as much as we loved her, there was another selfish reason for our excitement at going to that little village.
And that my dear friends was food! Now while I love her coconut milk fish curry and I still miss her kheer, karanjis or flaky hand pies stuffed with jaggery and dry fruits were the main attraction. Especially since mom didn’t usually have time to make these. We loved these karanjis or hand pies if you will. Extremely flaky pastry that tool some amount of skill and the stuffing the way my grandma made is something that we use on festive occasions. Its known as “Poora” in Oriya and is basically grated coconut sauteed with jaggery, cardamom, cloves, poppy seeds and dry fruits. Its simply superb. I used to eat cold poora by the spoonful. Even today mom keeps a bowl of poora aside for me. You can find me using that sweet stuffing in the gujiyas or modaks I often make on festive occasions.
But for Holi, I wanted something savory, especially since I am hosting the Holi soiree and my dessert is already planned. I loved the idea of taking my love for the traditional karanji or gujiya and giving it a modern twist. Empanada, although Spanish by birth can be found in almost all regions of the worlds, by various names of course. We Indians might know it as gujiyas/ samosa/ karanji, but a few other names for similar pastries are dumplings, pierogi, hand pies, turnovers, British or Cornish pasties and empanadilla. The best part about this handpie or empanada is its versatility. There can be sweet handpies or savory empanadas. More traditional empanadas are stuffed with beef or meat with cheese empanadas being a hot favorite too. While sweeter versions are less popular, these can also be a complete delight. I love sweet hand pies. Remember the Nutella hand pies?? I think I eat 4 of those at one go! And I made orange marmalade and strawberry jam filled empanadas last Friday for babyD’s school event, made 60 of them!! Needless to say I didn’t have time to style or photograph them except take a quick Iphone click that I posted on Instagram (but obviously).
But for us, for the soiree I went the more grown up route. And I consciously kept it vegetarian since I am serving Keema Samosa as the non- veg appetizer. As I am writing this, I have run to the kitchen thrice! Once coz I forgot to soak the lentil for the dahi- wada (lentil fritters in yogurt), another time coz that dessert I am making needed to be mixed, and again coz I forgot about the damn chickpeas. I might be getting brain freeze you guys..seriously.
These caprese empanadas are sheer perfection. And no I am not over stating things. They are golden and buttery, crumbly crispy little parcels that just melt in your mouth. And the filling that bursts forth in your mouth is so flavorful and delicious. I doubt you can ever go wrong with the classic caprese, so keeping that in mind I went with tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. The empanadas are brushed with some sriracha just to spice things up a bit and are served with a deliciously fresh and herby mint gremolata. I am thinking chimichurri for the nest batch. You can fry these empanadas or bake them. They are delicious either way. I went with baked here coz the pastry has enough butter and I really do need to eat healthy. So no fried stuff ,for now atleast. Tomorrow is another day 😛
You can choose whatever filling you like. Add red bell pepper, mushrooms, gruyere, pulled meat; you are limited only by your imagination here. But make these as if your life (and your party) depended on it. There is nothing quite like taking your granny’s recipe and adding a modern twist to it. This here is a rather special dish that I am sharing with you beautiful people..a piece of me and the memory of my nani.
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1 large egg
- ⅓ cup ice water (about 3-4 tbsp)
- Mixed Italian herbs - 1 tbsp
- Rosemary - ½ tsp
- For the Caprese filling:
- Mozzarella - 100 gms
- Tomatoes (can be cherry) - 1 or 5 of cherry
- Basil - chopped, handful.
- Red onion - ¼ of a large onion
- Green chillie, 2, deseeded and chopped fine
- Salt as needed
- Smoked paprika - ½ tsp
- Sriracha, enough to brush on every pastry.
- For the mint gremolata:
- Visit Feastingathome for the recipe. Link provided in the post (look for a link in blush pink)
- Sift flour with salt into a large bowl. Add the dried herbs and mix.
- Add the cubes of butter to it and rub the butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse sand. Typically has some pea-sized butter lumps.
- Next in another bow, beat together egg and water in a small bowl with a fork.
- Add this to the flour mixture and stir with a fork until just mixed together.
- Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together.
- Do not over work the dough in anyway. It should just come together.
- Press the dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.
- For the filling:
- Chop everything into tiny cubes and mix. Give it a taste and add more salt (or spice if you like).
- Prepare the mint gremolata and keep it in the fridge.
- For making the empanadas:
- Bring out the dough from the fridge and quickly start working.
- Keep the counter clean and dusted with flour, a bowl with egg wash , a pastry brush ,a cookie cutter, a bowl with sriracha and plates with flour dusted on them handy.
- Roll out the dough till its thin and rectangle. Using a cookie cutter, cut discs off the dough.
- Immediately brush some sriracha on one side of the disc, pile on some filling and fold it in half till its semi circle shaped. Working quickly pinch the edges together and make small pinches along the border or indent the edge with a fork. Keep aside on the flour dusted plate till others are ready.
- Remember to work quickly since you dont want the dough to get warm.
- Finish with the rest. You can apply a coat of egg wash on top if you wish (optional, i didn't for this one)
- Again put the filled and shaped empanadas in the fridge for 20 mins atleast.
- Preheat the oven at 180C. Take out the empanadas and bake in the oven for 15 mins till golden on top.
- Remove from oven, let it cool on a wire rack slightly and then serve with some mint gremolata!
- Alternatively, heat oil in a pan. About 3-4 inches, enough to deep fry. Once the oil is hot (bubbling at the surface, not smoking), gently add the empanadas to the oil. Dont overcrowd. 3-4 at a time. Let it cook on both sides till golden brown. Gently remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a tissue. Serve hot!
While baking,some cheese might melt and come out if you aren't very careful with the crimping of the edge.
Always chill the dough and the filled empanadas before the final cook, or they will shrink horribly.