Tortas? Savory Empanadas? Whatever the name, they're delicious!

I was in South Sioux City yesterday to teach a seed-starting workshop hosted by Center For Rural Affairs and Corazones Alegres (Happy Hearts) Club to help with their efforts in starting a Community Garden there.  Delia Meir, the coordinator for the club, and Pastor Henry Witte helped with translation.

It’s interesting how much Spanish I’ve retained, not having taken any classes since high school. I minored in French in college, but you just don’t hear French spoken in this area, so my retention is almost all on the reading side.

Spoken Spanish is much easier to come by, and comprehension is bolstered by my novel picks, which have tended toward Latin American authors and most recently, a Cormac McCarthy binge.

But even though I understood a few of the questions from the non-English-speaking participants, the workshop wasn’t really about honing my Spanish speaking and comprehension, it was about teaching people methods for seed-starting.  And it was a blast!  I hope I get to help out more on that project.

I’d meant to stop at one of the bakeries down there on my way back, but the long week had really worn on me, and I decided to just make a beeline for home.  What I was really craving was those football-shaped cheese, ham, and jalapeno-stuffed breads that sell three for a dollar down there.

About halfway home, I realized how hungry I was, and started kicking myself (figuratively speaking, as I was cruising at 70mph up the interstate) for not having stopped.  So, I made up my mind to pick up a few ingredients and attempt to make my own version for dinner.

There’s a good reason that almost every culture on the planet has some version of a savory-filling-stuffed pastry or bread–they contain the filling so it doesn’t easily leak out on your lap when eating, they’re rib-sticking nourishment, and they’re fantastically tasty.

I don’t know the name of the Mexican version of these breads with stuffing baked inside.  Bolillo is the ubiquitous football-shaped roll, and torta is what they’re called when they’re split open and made into a sandwich after they’re baked. An empañada is a savory or sweet-filled turnover, but it’s made with a pastry dough, not a yeast bread.

After spending quite a long while attempting to find a specific name for what I made last night, I’ve decided it doesn’t really matter–what matters is how incredibly good they were.  If you need a word for them, switch over to Italian and call them piccoli calzones.

The dough, after all, was the one I usually use for pizza–a cup of warm water and a teaspoon and a half of yeast, unbleached white and a little whole wheat flour, sea salt, honey, and olive oil.  It’s not kneaded too aggressively before rising in the bowl.

After the initial rising, I punched down and kneaded the dough and cut it into 12 pieces (16 would work–that’s what I meant to do and somehow didn’t).

I let it rest under a towel for a bit while I sauteed some sliced onion in butter with sage and thyme, then added chopped spinach to wilt.  I also sliced some provolone and prosciutto for filling (yeah, it’s pretty Italian).

Once the filling ingredients were ready, I set the oven at 350 degrees.  Oiling my hands, I pressed out each little dough ball into a thin, flat roundish shape and put maybe 1/8 cup filling in each, then pulled the dough over the top and pinched it together.  Each little calzone was then set on my oiled baking stone.

When they were all filled and secured, I slid the stone into my hot oven (it’s already broken in half, so I don’t worry about putting the room temperature stone in the hot oven) and baked the little stuffed breads for about 22 minutes.

There were a couple close to the wall of the oven that got a little browner than I’d anticipated, so I buttered their tops so they wouldn’t get tough if we had leftovers to eat in the morning.

Well, that turned out not to be a problem–H and I ate every single one, dipping them in a little quickly-reduced home-canned tomato sauce.

Local ingredients: whole wheat flour, honey, herbs, tomato sauce.

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