Most every culinary culture has a version of this: something a southerner might call a ‘hand pie’, or a savory turnover. Pastry or dough, wrapped around something delicious and usually baked, or maybe fried, that you eat with your hands. In Italy, it’s a calzone; in Spain, an empanada; a burrito in Mexico; a pastel in Portugal.
In France, non, merci. The French have a horror of eating with their fingers. There is le sandwich, but even that is eaten neatly, wrapped in parchment paper. Le hamburger, newly popular, is generally attacked with a knife and fork, as is pizza. They will wrap a filet en croûte and bake it, but that’s formal, knife and fork food.
I love a good savory empanada or turnover or hand pie, however. Not only are they delicious and fun to eat, but they can also be whipped up in no time without a recipe, with whatever’s handy, which is my favorite way to cook. They’re quick, unless you choose to make your own pastry, in which case I am in awe of your talents. If, like me, you are inclined to cheat, buy the best. In the states I like Pillsbury pie dough that you just unroll. In France I use use pâte feuilletée, pur beurre (puff pastry made with butter). You can make a meat version or a vegetarian one, and if you include a dipping sauce, it’s really special.
Like this week. I was in my usual, “Oops-it’s-6pm-and-I-don’t-have-a-dinner-plan” mode. In the fridge I had a leftover pork chop and a bit of cooked squash, so I made what you might call an Italian empanada. I sautéed some onions and garlic with a finely chopped carrot, then added some white beans and cooked it all down a bit. Then in went the squash, and a bit of baby spinach I had on hand.
We are a mixed household (meat-eating, and not). So I put half of the filling on a round piecrust, topped it with a bit of cheese, and folded it over. I crimped the edges, and my vegetarian version was done. I then stirred the chopped pork into the rest of the filling, and repeated the process on the other round of pie crust, for the carnivore edition. I baked them at 400 for about 15-20 minutes. We dipped them into a warmed marina sauce. Dinner for two, and lunch for tomorrow too!
Of course you could do a Spanish take, with red or black beans and some spices, and dip it in salsa. Or fill it with cooked meat and whatever veggies you like. Shrimp or fish would work too—well, the possibilities are endless. You don’t want your filling to be too liquid, or it will be soggy; but not too dry, either (mine looked a bit dry so I napped it with olive oil).
So how can we French-up our hand pies? I’m thinking of filling one with a mixture of mushrooms, sautéed with garlic and parsley, and just a splash of soy sauce, wrapped in puff pastry. Shall we dip it in a little sauce béarnaise? I’d better get out the silverware, though, if my French friends are around!
In the COMMENTS: Jan, love your image of finding raspberries while horseback-riding, and yours too, Vicky, of strawberries on the trail. Diane, I've had some wicked encounters with nettles in France, and I won't be gathering any! Noreen, you are the kind of cook we like, that chicken dish sounds wonderful. Cynthia tells us about cress gathering, Leslie has a great blog on gardening to visit, and thanks to Ellie I've checked out the May Victoria Magazine article on Burgundy. Ami, I share your mushroom gathering phobia, though I've done it and survived. Bobby and Diane, happy French honeymooning in Burgundy, and Paula, good luck with your move to France!
Check out the blogs of some of our commenters this week: Speaking of France, Mary James Dishes it Out, VA de Pintor, Process Artist, Living with Loulou, Charleston Today, The French Elements, Pen at the Ready.
Favorite Reads: Congratulations to Natalia, who won our book giveaway of Emily Dilling's My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes. And speaking of cooking, if you’re a meat eater, you might want to read the New York Times article this week by Nicolas Kristof, Animal Cruelty or the Price of Dinner?. In which he makes the point that, while we may be indignant at the abuse of a dog, we buy chicken that’s been scalded live in boiling water, or endured other atrocities—and is probably filled with chemicals you’d never want to put in your body. It’s worth your consideration.