England is pretty big on their pies, especially if you ask a Northerner. Spain, however, not so much… They do have plenty of pastry dishes, especially in terms of sweet treats and snacks to accompany your coffee. The closest alternative to a pie that you’ll find in Spain, then, is called ‘empanada’. The type of pastry or ‘masa’ that you’ll find depends entirely on the overall finish you’re after, or the preference of the bakery itself. You can get both sweet and savoury empanadas, but there’s a lot more variety to the savoury ones so we’ll start there!

Probably the most commonly found filling for empanada (and my favourite!) is the ‘atún’ or ‘bonito’. This is usually quite a moist mix of tuna flakes (either tinned or from a jar) and ‘pisto’. The term pisto generally refers to a dish of stewed vegetables ranging from tomatoes, peppers, onions, aubergines, courgettes and olive oil. It can be served as a simple side dish to meat or fish, but when added to the tuna, it gives a fresh, fuller overall flavour. For a great tuna empanada, you want a good filling to pastry ratio, and I prefer a flaky, almost puff-pastry sort of consistency to the outside. ‘Carne’ is another firm favourite which you’ll find in most supermarkets or bakeries, and consists of a slightly drier pisto mix, combined with stewed beef. Often, this variety comes in a thicker, more solid type of pastry, similar to that of a Cornish pasty.

Head out to anywhere along the coast and you’ll see, as might be expected, empanada being used as another celebration of great fish and seafood. Surprisingly, prawns and shrimp aren’t a very common ingredient in empanada fillings, but in Galicia, the love of octopus, or ‘pulpo’ takes over. Here, the octopus is boiled until tender and then chopped and lightly seasoned before being added to the pastry, shaped and baked in a hot bread oven. Always a nation to use the very best of local ingredients, scallops or ‘zamburiñas’ also score pretty highly in the ‘Best Empanada Filling’ awards. Again, this variety favours a slightly thicker pastry to hold together all the goodness inside. The recipe for the filling is simple, preferring to let the seafood do all the talking: combine chopped onion, peppers, garlic and tinned chopped tomatoes in a hot pan and fry until soft. Then add parsley and a dash of sweet and/or hot paprika. Finally, add in the roughly chopped scallops and remove from the heat. Then shape within the pastry, fold and bake.

Now, I did promise that we’d talk about the sweet versions of empanada, and I tell you – a good ‘Empanada de Manzana’ is a real joy. This is probably most easily compared to an apple turnover, but there’s something about the addition of cinnamon to the cooked apple mixture that really makes this dish exciting. Also, considering the notorious Spanish sweet tooth, this is surprisingly never too sugary; although that does just make it harder to stop eating.. This is a really great, fairly simple to make dessert and can be produced as a huge traybake that everyone picks from, so you’ll definitely earn some popularity at family parties!

By Leah

Leah Hendre is currently studying Spanish and Linguistics at Oxford University, but is using her free time to share her love and passion for Spain - and more importantly, Spanish food. www.LeahHendre.com, @LeahHendre [Twitter + Instagram]