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Baked spinach and cheese empanada, with the filling wrapped in filo pastry. A cross between spanakopita and empanada? Maybe, but at least no need to make empanada dough from scratch.
Cheese making is a complete mystery to me. Not the process itself since, I figure, you curdle milk, strain it and let it sit to ferment, solidify, age and turn into cheese, give or take a detail or two. But how do they make all those wonderful variations that are different wherever in the world you go?
Is it all down to cows (and sheep, and goats. donkeys?)? Is it in the grass they eat, in their happiness levels and the climate they live in? Compare Cheddar with Emmental: at a glance both are types of cow’s milk hard cheese but the difference in taste? You couldn’t possibly confuse them at the blindest tasting.
So when I encounter a recipe that calls for a particular type of cheese that isn’t readily available in my neck of woods, I’m usually stumped. Replacements work provided the result is similar, and the way individual cheeses behave is so varied it’s a difficult trick. This spinach empanada recipe for instance, from Great British Chefs whom I fully respect, demanded Torta del Casar. Wtf? Exactly.
Having read all I could about the mysterious Casar, I decided it must be a relatively smelly cheese, in a firm rind but runny in the middle. Sheep’s milk, to make things more challenging. Feta was the only sheep origin dairy available to me, but it mixes well so should do for one part. For the rest I settled on ripe Camembert, but a good goats’ in thick rind may do well too.
The rest of the recipe is easy; the only challenge, as always with spinach, is to cook it off sufficiently so it isn’t soggy. I was wondering whether it can still be called an empanada if the cheese is of non-Spanish provenience. The word means ‘wrapped in bread’ so maybe this is an ‘enfilada’? And maybe my innovative naming will catch on? But anyway – spanakopita is not pita bread either so I hope some culinary license is allowed, even among the cultural appropriation police these days.
spinach empanadaServings: 2-4, starter or main dishTime: about 1 hour
- 600g (1½ pound) fresh spinach
- 20g (1 tbsp.) olive oil
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
- 150g (5 oz.) feta cheese
- 150g (5 oz.) soft, Camembert-style cheese (Munster, Reblochon, Vacherin) or ripe goat’s cheese
- salt and black pepper
- 5 sheets of filo pastry
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water, for brushing
- For the topping:
- 20g (2 tbsp.) pine nuts
- 20g (2 tbsp.) whole blanched almonds, crushed roughly with a rolling pin
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
1. Wash the spinach, spin it dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels. Chop it roughly.
2. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic and cook gently until soft.
3. Add the spinach to the pan gradually, twisting it with tongs so it cooks evenly. Continue until the spinach is cooked and most of the liquid has evaporated. Mash the cheeses with a fork and stir them in, until melted. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
4. In another, small frying pan toast the pine nuts and almonds until coloured. Stir in the honey and vinegar and set aside.
5. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
6. Spread a sheet of filo on a work surface and brush it with egg, Cover with the next one, brush with the egg and continue with all five layers.
7. Spoon the spinach along a short edge of the filo gently squeezing out excess of liquid with your fingers. Roll the empanada, tucking the sides in, to form a long parcel. Brush it all over with the remaining egg and transfer it onto the baking sheet.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp and evenly golden. Remove from the oven, spoon over the topping, cut into portions and serve immediately.