Canastitas (“little baskets” in Spanish) make a great alternative to traditional empanadas. They’re a bit quicker to put together, and they appeal to those who eat first with their eyes because they can see the filling. The classic combination of tomato, basil and mozzarella brings fresh, bright flavors to the plate, but you can use any number of fillings, just as you would with empanadas. I particularly like canastitas for cheesy fillings, however, since you don’t have to worry about them exploding and leaking melted cheese like empanadas tend to do.
These make an excellent appetizer or a light meal when combined with a green salad. ¡Buen provecho!
Yields 12 servings
12 empanada shells
3 small tomatoes, chopped
6 oz. mozzarella cheese, diced
10 basil leaves, chiffonade [thinly sliced]
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Form a ½-inch pleat by pinching together the side of the empanada shell. Fold the pleat over and press firmly against the edge of the dough. Continue to pleat and fold the empanada shell in this manner until it forms a basket shape. Place it on the baking sheet, covered with a slightly dampened dish towel. Repeat the shaping process with the rest of the empanada shells.
Evenly divide half of the cheese cubes among the canastitas, followed by all of the chopped tomato and basil. Sprinkle a tiny pinch of salt and a grind of pepper over each canastita. Top the canastitas with the remaining cheese.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the dough and cheese turn lightly golden brown. Allow the canastitas to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Tips: Roma tomatoes work well in this recipe because they’re not too juicy, but you can use any sort of flavorful garden tomato for the canastitas. You may want to deseed and/or drain the juice from the tomatoes once they’re chopped to keep the canastitas from getting too watery. Also, be generous with the filling — the ingredients cook down considerably in the oven.