Last fall, we cooked up our Halloween pumpkin, freezing the flesh for use later in the year. It was a big pumpkin, so we have a number of packets still sitting in the freezer that we really need to be eating. Mostly, we make things like pumpkin bread, eating a slice for breakfast or for a snack. Another use for pumpkin is pumpkin pie; It’s one of our favorites. But, we tend not to think of pumpkin as part of a main dish, until now.
We’re not sure why people don’t think of using pumpkin for dinner; after all, it’s just a type of squash, and a lot of people love acorn and butternut squash. We guess that it’s because it’s a SQUASH. A large squash, not some squash that a single person can eat in a sitting, but a squash that could keep your family eating for several days. That, and the fact that most pumpkin is mild tasting; you might even say it was bland, so whatever you make from it, you’ll need to add flavor.
We decided on empanadas filled with pumpkin and potatoes. Now, we’ve never made empanadas before, but we’ve eaten them multiple times, and we knew what we wanted in an empanada. First and foremost, we wanted a light but crispy crust, something that we could bake, rather than deep-fry, so we settled on a variant of Lavash crackers. Second, we wanted a lot of flavor in the filling, a flavor that goes well with both potatoes and pumpkin. We settled on cumin, which is one of the most widely-used spices throughout the world. It seems to be a great universal savory spice.
The whole wheat flour is there just to give the dough some color, so, if you don’t have whole wheat, just use all-purpose. We don’t give an exact amount for the water in the crust, but you want a dough that’s pliable without being sticky. For the potatoes, we used Yukon Gold potatoes, but pretty much any kind of potato will work. The pumpkin was, of course, roasted last fall, and, since it was made from a fresh pumpkin, we had to squeeze out a lot of liquid, so you’ll see a ball of squeezed pumpkin in the photos. If you use canned pumpkin, you won’t have this problem; we think that a 15-ounce can will be just about the right amount.
Procedure in detail:
For the crust.
Mix drys. In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, cumin, salt, and yeast. We used a little ground cumin in the crust to add a bit of flavor, no other reason. Once we measured everything, we just swished it together with our fingers.
Make dough. Add the olive oil to the flour mixture, followed by about 1/2 cup of warm water. Use a spoon and stir vigorously to see if it comes together into a dough. If needed, add more water or flour until you have a ball of ragged- looking dough.
Knead, rest, knead. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead it for 5 minutes. If the dough is sticky, add a bit more flour. If it’s dry, you’ll have to work in some more water. Keep kneading for 5 minutes, then rest. Rest yourself and the dough for 5 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to develop and hydrate. Once rested, knead for another 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth.
Rest. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly-oiled bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap or a plate. We’ll let the dough rest like this for about an hour, which is about how long you need to make the filling.
For the filling.
Boil potatoes. Place the potato cubes in a small saucepan and cover with water. Add the salt to the water and place on a medium-low burner. Bring the potatoes to a simmer, and cook until they’re tender but not falling apart, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.
Make filling. In a large bowl, fold together potatoes, pumpkin, onion, cumin, salt, and pepper. We fold everything together because we want chunks of potatoes in our empanadas, not mashed potatoes. That’s it. Set aside the filling until the dough is ready.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
Divide dough. If the dough is oily, give it a few kneadings to work in the oil. Once the dough is smooth, cut it into four equal pieces and work with one chunk at a time, while keeping the remaining dough under a piece of plastic to keep it from drying out.
Roll dough. Roll out the dough into a long strip, making it as thin as you can, ideally, about 1/16th of an inch thick. We used a pasta machine for the task, but a rolling pin will work, too. It will just require a bit more effort on your part.
Cut dough. Slice the strip of dough into rough rectangles about 4 x 6 inches in size. These will form the outsides of the empanadas. If needed, you can give the smaller pieces a quick rolling or two to make them thinner.
Fill, fold, crimp. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling toward one side of a dough rectangle, fold the dough up and over, and crimp the dough together with a fork. Transfer to one of the prepared baking sheets. Continue making empanadas with the remaining dough and filling.
Bake. Slide the sheets into the oven and bake for 40 minutes, rotating from front to back and top to bottom halfway through, or until the crust is brown and crisp.
We served our empanadas with a bit of the caramelized onion chutney and some tamari sauce on the side. Some sort of sauce is likely needed, as these will be a bit on the dry side. Think of these emapandas as hand pies you can pick up and eat without filling leaking out; it’s nice to add just a bit of something to increase the moisture. Other than that, we really liked the combination of potato and pumpkin. The potato chunks became very tender in the oven, without turning to mush, so they gave the empanadas some texture, while the pumpkin helped hold the filling together. We liked using a simple cumin seasoning, rather than a mix of spices. It seemed to give these empanadas a “purer” flavor profile, instead of something where the flavors are muddied. And the crust was a success. It turned out thin and crispy- crunchy, with a texture something like a cross between a traditional crust and a cracker. Four stars.