Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Empanadas with morcilla and apple

Or, Vampire Pies!

There aren't many foods I don't like. They include, in no particular order: cauliflower, black licorice, pears, some offal (intestines, stomach), veal, well-done hamburgers. For the most part, I don't like not liking these foods. (Except the veal. I figure, if there is some sort of giant cosmic food balancing scale, my unnatural love for foie gras is weighed out by the fact that I don't eat veal.)

The list used to be longer. I used to hate avocado, mayonnaise, sweetbreads, cabbage, blue cheese. But I dislike self-limiting myself in the food world, and I try foods from the Don’t Like list every so often. And I’ve come to love many of my previously hated foods. Sometimes the love came slowly: mayonnaise, for instance, came in slow increments of the faintest smearing on a slice of toast, topped with a lot of turkey and bacon (the avocado would come later). I’m still careful with the stuff today, and those giant, industrial-sized plastic jars of the jiggly goo continue to weird me out. Other times, the love was like an epiphany: avocado (I told you it would come later) happened towards the end of a long trip in Guatemala, in a secluded town on a volcanic lake. With little cash left, my friend Lauren and I simply stocked up on Cokes, stale bread, and fresh avocados – smaller than ones I’d been used to in the States, these fruit had giant pits and sweeter flesh. We would sit on a quiet dock by the lake, and sandwich the avocado's tender green meat in between packaged hamburger buns. That was our diet for three days, and I came back home a convert.

The list also used to include morcilla, also known as blood sausage. Morcilla, as I am familiar with it in Argentina, is a dark black sausage, less spicy and more soft than its more popular cousin, chorizo. Morcilla is available in many of the restaurants down here, and is a staple of any asado – that is, a barbeque, Argentine-style. I’d tried it various times, in various places, but was always disappointed by the bland flesh, and the weird white parts (that is, the fats) that I was left chewing last.

But. But! Just two weeks ago, Bennett went to an asado. He hung out with our friend Augustin, the asador (that is, the guy doing the roasting), drinking beer and talking, and occasionally being handed a bite-sized piece of meat from the grill. Bennett hadn’t been much of a blood sausage fan either, but this time the morcilla, he told me later, was great.

“Really?” I asked. “Was it a different kind, do you think?”

“No,” he said, “it looked the same. But Augustin gave me little pieces to eat as it grilled. I got to try it when it was barely cooked. It had a different texture than normal – it was kind of like a pâté.”

Aha! An epiphany! Maybe my dislike of morcilla wasn’t so much the taste, as the texture. The following week, we bought a pack of blood sausage and grilled them at home. Barely warmed through, they were soft, with a creamy filling. The sensation was completely different, and wholly enjoyable. They were, though, extremely rich, and hearty eaters though we are, had a link and half left over.

Not long ago, I’d come across a recipe for morcilla in a recently purchased, shiny new cookbook, and decided now was the perfect time to try it out. Narda Lepes, author of Comer y Pasarla Bien (my poor translation: Eating and Doing It Well), has a recipe for bite-sized focaccias, topped with morcilla and apple. Last night, I tweaked and twisted the recipe, to fit what was in our pantry (no mint) and formatted to what I like (not so crazy about pine nuts). I made empanadas, instead of focaccia, using store-bought dough. The results were small, golden puffs, whose flaky layers gave into a thick, rich filling. We ate them as we drank a bottle of white wine and watched La Suerte Está Echada (The Die Is Cast). I’d recommend doing as many things out of that sentence as you can.

Empanadas with morcilla and apple

(A quick note: the following amounts make a filling enough for eight or so nicely stuffed empanadas. Between two people, they make a large appetizer, or could also work for a light meal, followed by some simply dressed greens.)

1 Tb. olive oil
¼ onion, diced
½ apple, peeled and diced into small cubes
150 g. morcilla (a link or two, depending on size)
1 garlic clove, diced
flat-leaf parsley, chopped
packaged empanada rounds

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a small saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes. Add in the apple, and cook the two together for eight to ten minutes. Neither the onions nor the apples should brown – you want the heat to release their flavors, and mellow their crunch, not cook them too much. Remove them from the heat.

Making a shallow slit down the length of the sausage, peel off its skin. Chop the morcilla into smallish pieces. (In her recipe, Narda says to pull out all the little white parts from the inside, leaving only the cooked blood. I’m sure this has much to do with texture, more than taste. Hers are open-faced bites, designed for an elegant party; mine were closed, meant to be eaten on the couch, in the dark. I tried taking them apart as such for a few minutes, then got frustrated and left the majority of the white parts in. The empanadas were still delicious.)

Mix the onion and apple with the garlic, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Add in the sausage. Make a little assembly line: empanada rounds, filling, tray. Put a heaping tablespoon or two in the middle of each round of empanada dough, and fold into a half-moon, making sure that the empanada sealed well. (Oven-baked empanadas, I’ve found, though, are much easier to keep closed than fried ones.)

Once the empanadas are formed, bake them in the oven for about fifteen minutes. They are ready when puffed and golden.

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