Tortellini Soup and Beef Empanadas

Having been here for almost 2 1/2 years now, I find myself pretty immune to most of the things that used to amuse me when I first arrived. Birds trained to pick up loose change? Seen it. Infant children dangling/precariously perched on highly dangerous motorized contraptions like it’s no big thing? Yeah, it’s no big thing. And then I see something that reminds me to be amused, like a little delivery scooter with a big metal locker mounted on the back, that someone has drawn on in permanent black marker “FEDEX.” Super legit, delivery guy, super legit. Except, you didn’t the bubble letters correctly, and there’s no arrow between the E and the X. So now, I don’t trust you to deliver my packages.

Confession time, guys. I don’t really know that much about cooking. Like, yes, I know how to cook things. I am really good at following directions, i.e., finding a recipe and doing exactly what it says because I think I really want to consume the end product. I’m pretty decent at throwing some ingredients together in a way that I’ve done for years to create my own dishes, or fiddling with recipes to give it my own take. But I’m not an expert by any means–I generally need to have someone else’s idea to base my creations on, and I’m really bad at creating multi course meals that actually complement each other. And let’s not even start to contemplate pairing food with wine. That shit is for people who have time and money to waste. Know how I chose a bottle of wine? I go to the liquor section of Jenny Lou, think, “ANYTHING BUT CHARDONNAY” and pick the cheapest bottle that’s not originally from China. So far it’s worked out all right.

But yeah, so the dinners I serve can be interesting, like maybe I’ll decide to make Thai chicken and Italian meatballs and Indian curry and you’ll jut have to shut up and eat it and enjoy it because I made it all from scratch.

So I’ve been eyeing some recipes for an Italian tortellini-sausage soup and empanadas, and neither are really a dinner by themselves, so I decided to make both dishes when company came over. And they just had to deal with two types of deliciousness.

The tortellini soup was simple, fairly adaptable, tasty, and a great week night supper because it took all of about fifteen minutes–less if you start out with store bought sausage.

I seasoned ground pork belly with a generous pour of white wine and cooking wine, salt, pepper, toasted fennel, minced garlic, sugar, garlic powder, and some dried mixed herbs. Mixed this all together, formed rough patties and cooked them thoroughly in some oil. Set aside.

In a big pot, heat olive oil. I tossed in about 1/2 cup of chopped onions that I had in the freezer (great time saver!), and after those softened, added in some minced garlic. Gave that about 2-3 minutes, and tossed in a bay leaf and a pinch of crushed red peppers. I chose to add a can of white beans and about half a can of diced tomatoes, and about 4 cups of stock or stock and water mixed. And then I added in the sausage, and brought the stock up to boil, before pouring in a package of pre-made porcini tortellini. This is where you could add in some kale or spinach, but I couldn’t  find any at the market. It only takes a few minutes for the tortellini to cook, and then you can season to taste with salt and pepper and serve. It’s got a bit of heat from the red pepper, and is sort of reminiscent of minestrone. Mmm.

Bowl of Good Things: tortellini, beans, sausage, tomato. And room for many more good things.

Bowl of Good Things: tortellini, beans, sausage, tomato. And room for many more good things.

I let this simmer on the pot while I went to work on the empanadas. I started the dough before the soup, because it needs to chill an hour.

Dough: 4 1/2 cups flour ( I used half whole wheat half all purpose), a pinch of salt, and a cup of butter, cold and cubed. 2/3 cup ice water, 2 eggs, and 2 Tbs white vinegar. Blend the butter and flour and salt until it sort of resembled sand. Beat the eggs, beat in water and vinegar, then mix into the dough. Knead until it forms a smooth, not too sticky dough. Cover with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge.

I bought a sack of frozen not-great-quality steaks from Metro last month to have back up protein in the fridge. I took two of the more gristly ones, defrosted, and cut off all the good meaty bits into small pieces, which I marinated in a mix of cooking wine, salt and Maggi sauce while making the soup. Then I diced one green pepper, and about a 1/2 cup of cheese (a mix of Mozzarella and Colby Jack). I sauteed the rest of my ziplock of frozen diced onion in olive oil, (a little ore than half a cup?) and added in the beef. Add any seasonings your heart desires at this point.

Once thoroughly cooked and a bit cooled, I mixed this with the green pepper and cheese, and put this bowl to the side. Take out the dough from the fridge. Prepare a well floured flat surface and roll out the dough in fist sized sections. I used a small bowl about 4 inches diameter to cut out circles of dough. One batch of dough makes about 24 dough circles. Beat an egg with 2 Tbs water for an egg wash.

Fill each dough circle with a heaping spoonful of the pepper-beef-cheese mixture, dab a finger in the egg wash and run it along the edge of the dough, fold the circle in half, and crimp the edges. I have no idea to make the pretty crimps that I’ve seen on actual empanadas, so I just sort of pinched and folded the edges over on mine. At this point, I took most of them and laid them on parchment lined cutting board, not touching each other, and popped in the freezer. Once frozen solid, they can be placed in a bag without fear that they’ll stick together.

Beef, pepper, onion and cheese, melty goodness wrapped up in a flaky, golden pastry crust.

Beef, pepper, onion and cheese, melty goodness wrapped up in a flaky, golden pastry crust.

The last six I brushed with the egg wash, laid on lightly oiled tin foil and baked at 350F for 25 minutes. They come out golden, perfectly flaky, with melty cheese goodness, and seriously, can you beat the mix of peppers, onions and meat? Not really. But the fillings you could stick in these suckers are pretty endless. It’s takes a lot of work to make them, so definitely not a weeknight project, but having a bag of these in my freezer ready to bake is kind of awesome. Plus, I had two dough circles left when i ran out of filling, so I filled them with chopped up frozen bananas and the chocolate mixture that I had left from making the Bailey’s cupcakes. They are also in my freezer waiting an appropriate time to be baked and consumed.

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