SEPARATED FROM THE REST of Spain by high mountains, Galicia was, until a few decades ago, entirely isolated and the country’s poorest region. The only way out of poverty was emigration. That is why Galician empanadas—square pieces cut from a large, crusty pie—are among the most widespread snacks all over Spain and as far away as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba, where Galician emigrants opened restaurants and bars. Elsewhere the small turnover-type versions, empanadillas, have become common, but in Galicia it is the large pie that can be seen in all the bakeries. It is cut into portion-size squares so you can see the crumbly pastry and rich filling and catch a whiff of delicate aromas.
Empanadas come with a variety of fillings based on meat or seafood. A tuna filling is especially popular. Light and flavorful, it is ideal warm-weather food.
My favorite tuna empanada recipe was given to me by Angelita García de Paredes Barreda, an 85-year-old nun who lives in Seville and comes from an illustrious military family. Many of her recipes were passed down by her relatives, and some were obtained in convents from other nuns who came from different regions.
Angelita’s dough is different from ordinary pie crusts in that it is made with olive oil rather than with butter or lard, and with white wine (or hard cider) rather than water. When I first tried it I remembered the words an elderly Jewish lady in Istanbul, whose ancestors had come from Spain, had used to describe the dough for her tapada (it means “with a lid”—that is what Sephardic Jews call an empanada). “You know when there is enough flour when the dough feels like your earlobe,” she had said.
Angelita’s pastry has no shortage of flavor and it melts in the mouth. The olive-oil-based dough is particularly easy to roll out: You do not need to dust the surface or the rolling pin with flour and it does not stick. Start from the center and work your way out in all directions.
FOR THE PASTRY
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup olive oil
½ cup dry white wine or hard cider
½ teaspoon salt
About 2¼ cups all-purpose flour