Spring empanadas with spelt flour, asparagus, arugula and white beans

Spring empanadas with asparagus arugula and white beans

Spring empanadas with asparagus arugula and white beans

Hey, kids! It’s Saturday storytelling time! As I’m sure you recall, this means that along with your daily recipe and song, you’ll get a story, too! Each week, everybody in our small salon of auteurs (well, generally me and one or two other people) writes a story based on a found photograph. Why is this man sleeping on the floor? Where is he, and what has he been up to? If you’d like to write a story about it, and I hope you do, send me a copy and I’ll post it here, or send me a link if you have somewhere of your own to post it.
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My friend asked me to make something with spelt flour, and this is what I came up with. They’re not gluten free, but they’re easier to digest for people that have a gluten intolerance. And spelt flour is a pleasure to work with!! These would work easily as well with regular flour. I thought they were nice–fresh and comforting. Perfect for this slow spring we’ve been entertaining.

Here’s Mississippi John Hurt with Make me a Pallet on Your Floor.

JULY 1942

At 2:55 am, he made himself a bed on the floor and he opened the door to his rented room. He felt vulnerable with the door open, but it was better than stagnating in still, hot air. In the mid-July heat the room was dry and baking, and the parched dark wood sipped the clear moonlight. He left the damp sheets in a tangle and settled in a cool pool of light in the middle of the room. The moon drenched his white shirt and splashed off onto the polished floorboards. He squinted into the waves of light, and then he closed his eyes. He loved the exact moment between waking and sleeping. He tried to catch that exact moment like a slippery silvery fish leaping through the moonlight. Sometimes he lay half-awake all night, waiting for this exact moment.
He didn’t need much sleep these days. He’d learned to live without it, being on the road as much as he was. Being constantly on the road. He’d learned to rest comfortably in any situation. He always slept with his clothes on and his valuables nearby. Never remove your watch or your trousers, that was his rule. Ready for anything. He could sleep on the floor; he could even sleep with the door to his room open for a bit of breeze. That’s how confident he was.
So he lay and waited for the feeling that his rational thoughts were floating from his brain. Sometimes the realization that this was happening was enough to snap them back in place. He thought about walking down long icy corridors, with tall pale walls and high windows. He thought about wandering in a cool forest and crunching snow with blue-cold feet. He thought about the number on the open door, gleaming in the pale light. 202. 202. The house number of the girl he loved. 202. He thought about the first time he’d seen that number, spotted with rust, on the gate in front of her house. The first time he saw her she scowled at him and turned her back. It was spring and the world was glowing green and fragrant. Her yard was overgrown with vines and sharp-smelling flowers. The very air was green and her dress was pale and shimmering.
He loved her so much in that exact moment that he felt all the rational thoughts floating from his brain. He felt elated and shaken. He thought he might vomit. She glanced at his slick hair and his uneasy smile and his briefcase full of samples and she frowned and turned her back, in a swirl of shimmering fabric. He suddenly saw himself as from a great height—small and pale and conniving, smiling the same smile to everyone and dreaming of money, dreaming of dollars raining down around him.
He felt desperate to tell her that he wasn’t like that, but of course he was like that and she knew it with one look. Which was why he loved her so madly, because she made him feel speechless. He could speak affably to anyone. He could talk. Words were his, he owned them and he rolled them around in his mouth and blew them out like bright bubbles. Like shiny floating balls of sound that charmed people, that charmed and disarmed them. Grown people, smart people, would laugh and chase his words like a child chases soap bubbles, trying to hold the fragile, insubstantial, slippery things in their hands.
She didn’t pop them, but one look from her, one withering glance, and he couldn’t even form the words. They tangled in his mouth and he couldn’t make sense of them, he couldn’t even understand why he’d try. Everything he’d said in his life had been a lie, and he couldn’t lie to her, so he became mute and foolish.
She turned on her heel with a glinting wave of dark brown hair. The screen door slapped shut, and the numbers—202—clanked against the paint-peeling wood.
“Gladys,” someone called from inside the house, and he knew that it was the most beautiful name he had ever heard. “Gladys,” called a voice, “Who’s that at the door?”
“It’s nobody. It’s just a salesman.”
Nobody. Nobody stood there, without a rational thought in his head, with no voice and no power over his limbs.
“What’s he selling?”
“I don’t know. Nothing we need, I can promise you that.” She stood there, as she said this, watching him through the dusky mesh of the screen door. Her face was serious and sour, but he knew she was laughing at him, and he was unmanned.
“Well, ask him in,” yelled the voice, “And give him something cool to drink.”
She pushed the door open, and the door, with its creaking hinges had more to say than he did. He fell to pieces, and she laughed at him with eyes the changing color of mourning doves. He sat in her kitchen, which was butter yellow and polka-dotted and smelled of toast and silver thyme, which grew in a pot by the open window. He drank something sweet and bitter from a sweating glass. He clutched his sample case on his knees for dear life, but he didn’t dare to open it because it was nothing she needed, nothing she would ever need. His heart was leaping all over itself to push out of his body and swim into her, and this made him dumb. He had played conversations like a game, and he always won. He was the champion of anticipating a reaction, of calculating a response. And yet, somehow, he couldn’t predict and didn’t understand that his awkwardness, his stuttered words, his thick tongue, his wide dark downcast eyes won her over as nothing else could do.
She gave him a picture of her face, and he left it by his bed when he dropped into sleep. He’d stare at it till she floated in the air, but he didn’t mind that she drifted away from him, because he could fly, too. They’d float together and small leaves of cool silver thyme would rain over them. They wouldn’t try to catch them or to shield themselves; they’d let the leaves brush like shadows on their faces. Her face was the first thing that had ever made him feel longing and loneliness; it was the first thing he’d ever missed. It was the only thing that had ever felt like home.

THE RECIPE

Makes ten empanadas

THE CRUST

3 cups spelt flour
1/2 t salt
black pepper
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, frozen (3/4 cup)

Combine the flour, salt and pepper. Grate in the frozen butter, mixing with a fork as you go along. Mix till you have a coarse, crumbly consistency. Add enough ice water to pull everything together into a workable dough. Knead for about a minute to make sure everything is combined. Wrap in foil and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

THE FILLING

1 t olive oil
1 t dried thyme or 2 t fresh
1 small bunch asparagus, woody ends chopped off, cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 2 cups)
1 cup chopped chives
2 t capers, chopped
2 cups arugula, washed and roughly chopped
1 can small white beans, rinsed and well-drained
1 t lemon juice
1 cup grated sharp cheddar or gruyere
shake of salt and lots of black pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the thyme and the asparagus. Cook for a few minute, till the asparagus is bright but crisp-tender. Add the chives, stir and cook, till they’re wilted and bright. Add the arugula, stir and cook till it’s wilted and bright–a minute or two.

Tip all the veg into a big bowl. Stir in the beans and capers and lemon juice. Mix in the cheddar, and season well with a little salt and a lot of pepper.

Preheat the oven to 425. Lightly butter two baking sheets. Break the dough into ten balls. Roll one out to be about 1/8th inch thick. Put a big spoonful of filling slightly off center (it should be about as big as the original ball of dough that you rolled out.) Fold the dough in half, and fold up and seal the edges. Place on the baking sheet and crimp the edges with a fork. Repeat with the rest of the dough/filling.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the pies are lightly golden and firm to the touch.

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