Hello everyone! I hope you’re having a lovely spring wherever you are. I wrote about this empanada a while back tucked into another post about Murcia’s annual spring fiestas. There’s no citywide party this year of course, but at least we can make festive foods to honor the season. Here’s an updated recipe for this picnic and party classic.
In her cookbook The Food of Spain, Claudia Roden writes, “Empanadas, large savory pies, are a symbol of Galicia, while empanadillas, small turnovers, are a specialty of the Balearic Islands and Valencia.” To which I ask, “Hey, what about Murcia?” Both empanadas and empanadillas are specialties here, too! Murcia often gets left out like this.
Yet the empanadas in Murcia are some of the best I’ve had anywhere, and they are among the foods I crave when I’ve been away for any length of time. The main ingredient that sets the empanada murciana apart from similar pastries in Spain is the sweet pimentón in the dough, lending it a more intriguing flavor, if you ask me, and a deep golden hue. The traditional filling has just three simple ingredients that are pantry staples in Spain: eggs, olive oil-packed tuna and tomate frito, a sweet and jammy tomato sauce.
These are the basic building blocks, yet every empanada murciana is slightly different, depending on the cook’s preferences. The dough can be made with or without a leavening agent, and the proportions and textures of each ingredient in the filling vary. Some like their tomato sauce chunky, while others like it smooth. In some cases, the sauce oozes out, and in others, there is just enough tomato to hold the other ingredients together. My favorite empanada murciana has flaky olive oil-rich pastry and a balanced blend of fillings.
This is a recipe for the most basic, traditional version of the empanada murciana. Feel free to adapt the filling to your tastes. Some people add roasted red peppers and even peas to the mix, for example. I like to keep it simple.
Here’s hoping that by next year we’ll be able to gather again to celebrate the events that make each place unique! In the meantime, I’ll be eating my fill of festive foods like the empanada murciana.
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 (28-oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and with any bits of skin and the core ends removed (about 4 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced)
- 1 tablespoon sugar plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon salt plus more to taste
- ⅔ cup (150 ml) mild flavored extra-virgin olive oil
- ⅔ cup (150 ml) dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons sweet pimentón
- 3¼ cups (400 g) all-purpose or pastry flour
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 1 (5-ounce) can tuna packed in olive oil, drained, or use 2 (2.75-oz./80-g) cans
- Tomate frito see recipe below to taste (I usually use about 1 cup)
- 2 hard-boiled eggs diced
Prepare the tomate frito
- Combine the olive oil, tomatoes, sugar and salt in a Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sauce begins to bubble.
- Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, uncovered, for 45–50 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and burning. If you have used canned whole tomatoes, break them up with the spoon as you go. Continue cooking until the sauce is reduced, jammy and sweet. Add more sugar and salt to taste.
- Allow to cool and use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to several days or in the freezer for up to several months. Makes about 1½ cups (I use this amount for my empanada).
Prepare the dough
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
- In the bowl of a food processor or a large mixing bowl, pulse or stir the olive oil, wine, salt and pimentón together until the seasonings have dissolved.
- Add the flour and pulse or stir just until well blended. The dough will be a bit shaggy and sticky, but will not cling to your fingers like pizza dough due to the high olive oil content.
Prepare the filling
- Place the tuna in a medium bowl and break it up with a fork. Add the tomate frito and stir until well combined, then stir in the eggs. Alternatively, you can place each ingredient directly onto the dough, starting with the tomate frito.
Assemble and bake
- Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Between two sheets of parchment, roll the larger piece of dough paper into a rough 12 × 16-inch (30 × 40-cm) rectangle, about ¼-inch (5 mm) thick. Transfer to a baking sheet and carefully peel off the top sheet of parchment paper (reserve to roll out the second piece of dough). Cover the base with the filling, leaving about a ¾-inch (2-cm) border.
- Place the second piece of dough on the reserved sheet of parchment paper and top with another sheet. Roll into a rough rectangle slightly smaller than the first (big enough to cover the filling), about ¼-inch (5 mm) thick. Remove the top layer of parchment paper and carefully invert over the empanada base—this is most easily done between two people, both holding one corner of the parchment paper in each hand. That way you can hold the sheet with the dough facing down over the base (the dough sticks to the paper) and center it well before setting it down. Peel off the parchment paper.
- Fold the bottom edges of the dough over the top and seal by pressing your finger around the seam, making a dimpled border. Pierce the top of the dough all over with a fork to allow steam to escape, making sure the tines go all the way through.
- Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg, then bake for 30–40 minutes, until golden.
- Let cool for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet, then carefully transfer to a cooling rack with the parchment paper underneath (once again, this is easiest with two people).
- Let cool to room temperature, then cut into squares.
- Serve with ice-cold lager, or with vermouth over ice with a slice of lemon and a few anchovy-stuffed olives (as pictured below).