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
1 egg, separated
FOR THE FILLING
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt, to taste
About 14 ounces canned tuna in oil, drained and flaked
20-24 black olives, such as Kalamata, pitted and chopped
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
What To Do
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the pastry: Beat egg lightly with a fork in a large bowl. Beat in baking soda, oil, wine and salt. Gradually work in enough flour to make a soft, malleable dough, stirring it in with a fork to begin with, then working it in with your hands. Roll dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for an hour.
2. For the filling, fry onion and bell pepper in oil in a large skillet, stirring often, until soft. Add tomatoes, sugar and a little salt and cook over medium heat until sauce is jammy, about 15 minutes. Stir in tuna, olives and chopped eggs.
3. Grease a pie pan about 11 inches in diameter with oil. Divide dough into 2 pieces, one slightly less than twice as big as the other. Roll out the larger piece (keep the remaining dough in plastic wrap) on a smooth work surface—do not flour the surface or the rolling pin; the dough will not stick, because it is oil-based. Roll it out so that it is large enough to come over the edges of the pan, and carefully transfer dough to the pan by rolling it up onto the rolling pin, then unrolling it gently into the pan. Without stretching the dough, ease it into the corners. Trim the edges to a ½-inch border. Lightly beat egg white, and brush it all over the dough. Bake 10 minutes, then let cool.
4. Spread filling evenly in pie shell. Roll out remaining dough to a large circle and lay it carefully on top of filling so that it covers the edges of the bottom crust. Brush with egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water. Bake until crust is lightly browned, 35-40 minutes. It is good hot or cold.
—From Ms. Roden’s “The Food of Spain” (Ecco, 2001)