Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Empanadas

I stumbled across a recipe for butternut squash "hand pies" a while back, and with a few tweaks it turned out to be nice choice for a potluck this past weekend. Contributing a dish to the annual Nashville Food Blogger party is a bit nerve-wracking, given that our group includes food and food writing professionals as well as extremely talented amateurs. I was very pleased with how they turned out.

I detest the term "hand pie" so I call them empanadas, given the Latin American-inspired flavors. The combination of butternut squash, goat cheese, and the seasonings work well together. The crowning glory of the empanadas is the crust; this is a standard all-butter pie crust, which I discussed in this previous post.

The directions here are for creating mini empanadas; the perfect size to provide a few bites as a snack or appetizer. You can, of course, make a larger size for a more substantial treat.
One of the great things about this dish is that the components can be made ahead, and they can even be assembled ahead to simply be baked right before serving. These are best fresh-baked. Leftover empanadas taste fine, but the crust does not stay crisp; warming in a 400F oven helps, but they will never regain the crispness they had after baking.

In the interest of saving time or fuss you may be tempted to skip the egg wash, but don't; the crust doesn't develop the appetizing deep brown color without it. Finally, one thing I have learned about turnovers and empanadas:  Less is more. I am always tempted to use more filling than the pastry can really handle, so I have to remind myself to practice restraint in that regard.

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese (Mini) Empanadas

Adapted from

Makes about 30 empanadas

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4" dice
1 large shallot, cut in half crosswise and thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 batch Easy, Perfect Pie Crust
1 cup finely crumbled fresh goat cheese
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water

Make the Butternut Squash Filling

Drizzle 1 Tbsp of the olive oil on a large baking sheet and swirl to coat. Add butternut squash and shallots, then sprinkle the cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil over the mixture. Toss with your hands until the vegetables are thoroughly mixed and coated with the oil and seasonings. Spread into a single layer in the pan and roast in a 425F oven for 20 minutes or so, until the squash is tender and lightly caramelized. Remove from the oven and cool thoroughly. The mixture may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 1 day ahead.

Prepare the Crust

Following the instructions in the Easy, Perfect Pie Crust recipe, you can make the pie crust dough up to several days ahead. When you are ready to work with the dough, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove one of the disks of dough from the refrigerator. Lightly dust a clean (sanitized) work surface with flour and place the dough in the center. (I have a silicone rolling mat, but any clean, flat surface will do.) It can be helpful to have a dough scraper as well as a rolling pin. Dust the top of the dough with flour and roll using light, short strokes. Start in the center and roll center to top, center to bottom a few times. Lift and turn the dough a quarter turn (using the dough scraper if it sticks). Repeat the center-to-top, center-to-bottom rolling pattern. Continue to lift and turn the dough, roll a few strokes, etc. Add a little more flour to the surface or the top of the dough if needed. I often flip the dough over a few times as well. The cold dough will be stiff at first but will loosen up. Don't worry about strong-arming it to get it to roll out -- a light touch will coax it into a nice sheet.

Your goal is to create a circle of dough that is about 14" in diameter. (If you are using a different dough recipe, you may need to adjust the size based on the quantity of dough it produces.) Cut as many 3-1/2" circles as you can from the dough and place in a single layer on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover completely and snugly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Gather dough scraps into a small disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

Repeat the steps above with the second half of the dough. Combine the scraps from both halves and roll out and cut as many additional circles as possible. Don't roll scraps for a third time. By the end of this process I had 30 circles on two large baking sheets resting in the refrigerator, with a small lump of dough left over.

Assemble the Empanadas

Remove one pan of dough circles from the refrigerator, and have the butternut squash mixture and goat cheese ready. You'll want to work fairly quickly here, since the warmer the dough gets, the more likely it will be to tear. If you get to that point, just put the whole pan back in the refrigerator for 10 or 15 minutes, then continue.

Using a pastry brush, brush the surface of all of the dough circles with cold water. Add 1 Tbsp of the squash mixture and 1/2 Tbsp of goat cheese to the center of each circle.

Using your thumbs to help to hold the mixture in place, draw the top of the dough circle over to meet the bottom half. Press the dough edges to seal. If the shape is lumpy and tall, press gently on the top to flatten slightly. Use a fork dipped in water to crimp the edges (or use your favorite crimping method).

When all of the empanadas on that pan have been assembled, re-wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Repeat the process with the second pan. The entire batch can be made ahead and refrigerated up to overnight before baking. If you are baking immediately, though, it's a good idea to let the 2nd pan rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so before continuing with the next step.

Ready, Set, Bake!

Using a pastry brush, brush each empanada with the egg yolk mixture. Don't glob it on, but paint a thin coat to cover the entire top surface of the empanada. Using a sharp knife, cut one or two slits in the top of each empanada, or poke several times with a fork. Bake in a preheated 400F oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot or warm.


  • An alternate method of creating the dough circles is to divide the entire batch of dough into 30 pieces, and roll them out individually. 
  • The butternut squash and goat cheese filling makes a great vegetarian taco filling!

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