By Janet Keeler
I can see the scene vividly. A swimming pool crammed with jumping and screaming kids. It’s warm; it’s always warm, 365 days a year. My bathing suit is Navy blue, fitting because my father was in the Navy and I was on the base team. I was a good enough swimmer to head to the pool by myself but hardly destined for Olympic fame.
I was always more interested in the snack bar. And especially in the Puerto Rican specialities sold there. My family lived on the U.S. Naval Air Base in San Juan from 1966-1970. I was too young to consciously subscribe to the “when in Rome” mantra of exploration, but immersed myself naturally. That is where I got my first taste of pastelillos, fried savory pies. I plopped down a quarter alternately for a meat or cheese version. Salty, crispy, hot. I was always in heaven when I noshed a pastelillo.
We moved from Puerto Rico in July 1970 and I never tasted another meat or cheese fried pie. Until now. Encouraged by this week’s Sunday Supper theme, Pies, Savory and Sweet, I headed to the kitchen to re-create that taste of my youth.
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Of course, I had to put a 2016 spin on my Puerto Rican pies, baking the empanada-like turnovers rather than frying them. (Admission, I did fry a couple just to make a more direct comparison to those long ago days. I was transported back for sure.)
The filling is similar to Cuban picadillo, ground beef with Latin seasonings. The ones I had at the pool didn’t have potato or green olives but my version does. I like the salty-brine of the olives and the texture of the potato. I am sure the ones from my youth were the most inexpensive versions available!
Thank goodness for the Latin food purveyor Goya, which made my experimentation so much easier. I find Goya products where my market stocks salsas and tortillas. Softrito is a base for many Puerto Rican dishes and is a cooked mixture of green peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions and spices. Recaito is a cilantro cooking sauce. Both bring a lot of flavor to this meat mixture and I was happy to take the shortcut by purchasing prepared versions. Likewise the seasoning packet, Sazón con Azafran, a mix of cumin, garlic and saffron.
For my first try, I used refrigerated pie dough rolled fairly thin. They pies puffed up too much and they were more about the dough that the filling. Then I grabbed some frozen Goya discos, thawed them and went to town. Perfect. These pastry rounds are already pretty thin and I was pleased the results.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 medium potato, peeled and diced small
- ¼ cup Goya Sofrito
- 2 tablespoons Goya Recaito
- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 packet Goya Sazón con Azafran
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 20 Spanish olives, roughly chopped
- ½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 2 packs Goya Discos (frozen pastry rounds), thawed (see note)
- 1 egg beaten
- Cook beef on medium heat in a large frying pan until brown. Drain grease and discard. Add diced potatoes, sofrito and recaito sauces and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato sauce, seasoning packet and salt. Let cook until most of liquid has disappeared, about 5 more minutes. (If the mixture dries completely, add some water.) Remove from and stir in olives.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- To assemble the pastelillos, separate one thawed pastry round at a time. Dip fingers in a cup of water, and wet the outer inside ring of the dough circle. Fill with a couple tablespoons of meat mixture and top with about 1 tablespoon shredded cheese. Do not overfill or the meat pies will pop open in the oven. Fold over the disco evenly and press firmly with fingers to seal.
- Place on baking sheet and dip fork into flour and press edges to help seal and decorate. Lightly brush the tops of pies with beaten egg. Place about 3 inches apart on baking sheet. You will likely bake them in two batches, 6 each.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Serve immediately, or cool completely and freeze in airtight containers or bags.
- Note: The Goya frozen pastry rounds come in packs of 10. This recipe will use 12 to 15, depending on how the hand pies are filled. They can be refrozen for later use.
Sweet As Pie
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- Mini Swiss Quiches from Family Around The Table
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- Plus: Baked Puerto Rican Meat Pies and More Pie Recipes from Sunday Supper Movement
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