I remember the first time I walked into my small-town, neighborhood bakery here in Argentina during the days leading up to Easter. In addition to the usual array of breads, cookies and pastries, there, piled high on a tray on the counter, stood a mound of flaky, golden empanadas topped with a shimmering layer of sugar. “Empanadas de vigilia” read the small, hand-lettered sign, and I was immediately intrigued. The baker’s wife explained that she had three varieties of empanadas for sale – all meatless – that they’d prepared especially for Lent.
In Argentina, where Catholicism holds sway as the dominant religion, many people continue to observe the traditional restrictions on eating meat during the season of Lent. As I later discovered, empanadas de vigilia may include any number of fish, vegetable or cheese fillings with flavors such as tuna, cod, corn, swiss chard and cheese making frequent appearances. These empanadas usually feature a flaky style of dough reminiscent of puff pastry, and they’re often topped with a sprinkle of sugar, just like the ones I saw at the bakery.
Of course, these empanadas can be enjoyed at any time of year (irrespective of your religious affiliation!), and the Roquefort, celery and walnut empanadas that I’m featuring here top my list of year-round favorites.
If you’re a fan of blue cheese, don’t hesitate to try these empanadas de roquefort, apio y nuez. The tang of the Roquefort cheese along with the crunchiness of the walnuts and the unmistakable flavor of celery makes for a flavor-packed empanada that you won’t be able to stop eating!
Empanadas de Roquefort, Apio y Nuez (Roquefort Cheese, Celery and Walnut Empanadas)
Yields 16 empanadas
1 Tbsp. butter
¾ cup peeled and chopped celery
pinch of salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cup coarsely shredded mozzarella cheese
1 ½ cup crumbled Roquefort cheese (or your favorite blue cheese)
1/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts
16 empanada shells, puff pastry type (tipo hojaldre) or homemade empanada dough
a glass of water
1 egg yolk
granulated sugar for sprinkling (optional)
In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the celery, salt and pepper, and cook the celery until it’s completely soft but not brown. Remove the celery from the heat and allow it to cool.
In a medium bowl, add the mozzarella cheese, Roquefort cheese, walnuts and the celery. Mix thoroughly to combine.
Assembling the empanadas:
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Place a heaping tablespoonful of the cheese mixture in the center of the empanada dough. Resist the urge to overfill the empanadas, as they will be difficult to work with and will likely explode in the oven if you do so. Dip your finger in the glass of water and lightly wet the edge of the dough. Bring the edges of the dough together and press firmly.
There are several methods used to seal the empanadas (the repulgue). The simplest way involves pressing the tines of a fork around the edge of the empanada, but if you’re interested in trying your hand at a fancier repulgue, here’s a video that demonstrates a traditional twisted edge.
Place the empanadas on a lightly greased cookie sheet, and brush them with egg yolk. Sprinkle them lightly with sugar, if desired. Poke holes in the top of the empanadas with a fork to vent the steam (cheese empanadas have a greater tendency to explode). Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.