My Ham and Cheese Empanadas are flaky, buttery baked dough shaped in half moon circles, wrapped around a heaping amount of sweet ham, cubed potatoes and a dollop of grated cheese. Freshly baked, they are plump with the ham filling, and the pastry is bursting at the sides, with the cheese threatening to explode out.
After six weeks of Lent and following the traditions of simple seafood and vegetable fare on Fridays, my family is always hungry and ready for a big hefty meal. So now it’s Easter and you probably have family and friends over whom you’d like to spend time with. The solution to that is to cook ahead. When you have make-ahead dishes – from starters, soups, appetizers to entrees and desserts, then you earn more time to relish with your loved ones.
A whole baked ham is ideal to make ahead. I often do this the day before the holiday itself. Then I cover it tightly to keep the flavors and moisture within. The day of the dinner I reheat the ham and some other entrees I cooked ahead. This time our ham was huge. We earned enough grocery points which entitled us to a humongous piece that was way larger than my largest stockpot or roasting pan. I had to slice the ham in half to make it fit in my roasting pan. After baking the ham, I realized we still had more than enough portions even if we had a big crowd coming. But there was no big crowd coming. It was just us. So, I did the next best thing. I transformed some of the ham into Ham and Cheese Empanadas.
Empanadas are like hand pies. They’re made with a pastry dough, filled with different ingredients and baked. When I baked these ahead for brunch, it was marvelous to inhale the freshly-baked sweet pastry. There were also enough ham and cheese empanadas for the lunches and snacks in the coming weeks. Once out of the oven, the crust was golden brown and had a flaky, crisp texture. As we sliced the empanadas in half, the cheese tendrils had melted into a creamy consistency and smothered the tender ham cubes. The buttery aroma of the half-moon-shaped empanadas filled the table.
Make the time to enjoy the simple things like spending time with family. Look up from that pile of work on your desk. Step away from the clutter of everyday. Untie your apron and walk away from the kitchen. Go outdoors. Or laze on the couch. Gather the family around the table for stories. It’s the simple things in life that are the mosaic tiles which make up the big picture of lasting memories.
Ham and Cheese Empanadas
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour for pastry
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, straight from the refrigerator, cut into small pieces
- 1 whole large egg chilled, beaten
- 4 Tablespoons iced water or more as needed, for pastry
- 1 1/2 cups cubed cooked ham, for filling
- 2 whole large potatoes peeled, cubed
- 1 whole medium-sized white or yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper powder
- 1 whole egg, beaten, for egg wash
- 2 Tablespoons milk, for egg wash
- To make the pastry dough: Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry blender until the texture resembles coarse meal with visible bits of butter. Stir the egg into the flour mixture and pulse in a food processor until all ingredients are incorporated. Add ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat into a disk about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
- To make the filling: In a medium skillet, saute onions till transparent. Add cubed potatoes and cook for about 8 minutes.
- Add the cubed ham to the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from fire and set aside.
- On a floured surface, roll out the pastry dough to about 1/8 inch thickness.
- With a round cookie cutter measuring about 4 inches in diameter, cut circles from the pastry dough.
- Fill half of it with the ham and potato filling. Top with half a teaspoon of grated cheese.
- Brush egg wash on the inside edges. Fold dough into a half circle and seal with a fork.
- Place empanadas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush empanadas with egg wash consisting of one beaten egg and 2 tablespoons of milk.
- In a preheated oven of 375 degrees, bake empanadas for 20 minutes. When done, cool on counter.
- Cook's Comments: If it is more convenient, use store-bought pastry dough. If it helps, you can use an empanada dough shaper/cutter for this recipe. I got mine from Amazon and it saves me the effort of cutting the dough with a cookie cutter.
- Cooking Tip: If you don't have time to bake a whole ham, try using ham slices from the supermarket deli. They'll be just as good for this empanada recipe.
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