Featured Wisconsin Cheeses: Gruyère
Growing up, empanadas were always one of my favorite foods. In Puerto Rico, where my family is from, empanadas are called “pastelillos” and are made with a variety of sweet and savory fillings like sautéed beef, stewed seafood, cheese and jams. Empanadas were usually reserved for special occasions. My brother and I always got incredibly excited when we saw that my mom was making a batch of pastelillos for dinner. She would make them using a store-bought dough that she’d fill with either cheese or a homemade ground beef mixture and then fry in batches until golden, draining them on a paper towel-lined plate while working on the next batch.
We’d often make a point of camping out in the kitchen, hovering as close as possible to the plate so that we could grab them as soon as they were cool enough to touch. We were so quick that my mom would be forced to swat at us with her spoon, warning that if we kept eating them there wouldn’t be any left for dinner.
If we resisted long enough and left her with enough additional dough, my mom would also make a few dessert pastelillos filled with guava and cheese—a classic sweet and salty combination that was always worth the wait.
In this recipe, I replaced the cheese portion of my favorite empanada with a creamy Gruyère-based macaroni and cheese. Tucked inside a flaky pastry shell with just a touch of guava for sweetness, it makes a fantastic appetizer to feed a crowd.
Empanadas are traditionally fried, but when preparing a large batch for a party, I prefer to bake them as baking doesn’t require me to spend as much hands-on time hovering over the stove. I admit that the texture isn’t as incredible when baked, but it’s still pretty delicious. I give directions for both options below.
Guava Mac & Cheese Empanadas
Serves 8 as an appetizer
For the empanada dough:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup cold water
For the mac and cheese:
1 pound small dried pasta (such as elbow macaroni, rotini, etc.)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, gently heated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Wisconsin Gruyère Cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream, warm
1/2 cup guava paste or guava jam (available in the Latin food aisle)
1 large egg, slightly beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
First make the dough. In the base of a food processor (or by hand), combine the flour, salt, baking powder and pulse a few times to whisk together. Add the olive oil and butter and pulse just until combined. Add the egg and the water, and pulse until dough resembles course crumbs. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 5 minutes until smooth. The dough should be a little bit sticky, but still workable. If necessary, add a small amount of flour or water to get the right consistency. Form into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour.
While the dough chills, make the mac and cheese. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, then cook pasta according to directions until it is al dente. Drain and set aside.
While the pasta cooks, melt the butter over low heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the flour to the butter and use a whisk to combine quickly until it all pulls away from the sides. Keep whisking while gently pouring in the warm milk. The flour mixture should dissolve in the milk. Continue to whisk, raising the heat to medium, until the milk thickens (about 5 minutes). Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and stir until well combined.
Remove from heat. Add the grated cheese and the heavy cream and keep stirring until the cheese is melted. Add the cooked pasta and stir to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside.
Remove the dough from the fridge. Spread flour on your work surface and working with about a 1/4 cup size amount of dough at a time, roll into a ball then use your rolling pin to roll out into a thin circle. Spread about a teaspoon of guava paste or jam in the center, and then top with a small amount of mac and cheese. Brush edges with egg wash. Fold the pastry over in half and use a fork to pinch shut. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough.
To cook you can either bake or fry.
To Bake: Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly brush the top of the empanadas with the remaining egg wash and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
To Fry: In a heavy bottom skillet or Dutch oven, heat 3/4 inch of vegetable oil to 350°F. Fry empanadas 2 or 3 at a time until golden (about 5 minutes per batch). Serve immediately.
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