Humitas are one of my favorite fillings for empanadas--and if you like corn, it will be one of yours, too. It's also vegetarian (if you make the dough yourself) a welcome variety from Argentina's meat-heavy menus.
Humitas is really an adaptation of indigenous cooking at its most basic--ears of corn, grated fine, peppers roasted over a flame, and onion, chopped and cooked and seasoned with the world's oldest condiment, salt. The dough, and the concept of filling that dough, came over with the Spanish. From those basic ingredients--commodities like flour, salt, and lard--the dough for empanadas was created. Stick the whole thing in a blazing hot clay oven and you'll get the idea of what gauchos were eating. And another testament to the endless creativity born out of necessity that Argentineans have a knack for.
Today's conveniences make this recipe only slightly easier--the old-fashioned way, though a lot of work, is made up for in flavor and quality. As for the labor, which can be daunting in our busy modern times, I found it easier to spread the process out over 2 days. Grating ear after ear of corn on a box grater is tiring, but totally worthwhile. The filling and baking process took place the second day, a faster and less laborious process. If you are making the dough from scratch, that can be done the day before, too.
Try as I might, I haven't yet found a shortcut way to make humitas without compromising taste. But there's a satisfaction in making something that takes more work than pressing buttons on the microwave, a sweetness to biting into something made by hand that took some time, effort, and love to create. Take a look at the other humitas recipes on this blog--Francis Mallmann's Humitas and Humitas en Chala, and join the conversation on twitter and facebook (group page, From Argentina With Love) where we answer questions and have giveaways!
Empanadas de Humitas
Corn and Piquillo Pepper Empanadas
This recipe is yet another version of the other humitas recipes I've made. The major differences are the omission of milk, the addition of cornstarch, and the longer cooking time--all for thickening so the filliing doesn't ooze out of the empanada. I made a dozen empanadas, and then froze the remainder of the filling for another day so I can skip the labor-intensive humita-making, but this recipe easily makes two dozen. Dough made from scratch can last a few days refrigerated, so feel free to space out the process of this recipe over a few days. Also, the filling itself can be adapted to be vegan, gluten, and dairy free.
10 ears of fresh corn
1 medium-sized onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup (57 grams) cornstarch
about six roasted piquillo peppers or three roasted red bell peppers
one teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 cup (80 grams) shredded mozzarella cheese
12 tapas or discos for empanadas, either store-bought or homemade
1 egg, beaten
Shuck the corn, removing all hulls and silk, and rinse the ears under cold water. Then, using the large holes of a box grater, grate the kernels into a large bowl. Rotate the ear around, grating the ear of corn, until all the kernels have been grated off. Slide the flat edge of a butter knife down the edge of the ear of corn all around to release any additional starchy juices into the bowl.
Peel and finely chop the onion, and heat the oil in a medium-sized non-reactive sauce pan to medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, but not browned, lowering the heat if needed. Add in the grated corn and stir to incorporate.
Bring the corn mixture to a boil (it will just sort of bubble up slowly) and continue to boil, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add in the cornstarch and stir to incorporate, and continue to cook at a simmer until the mixture thickens, about a half hour. Meanwhile, dice the peppers. Stir the peppers into the corn mixture, then add in the salt, crushed red pepper, and grated Mozzarella, and stir to incorporate.
Remove the mixture from heat and let cool completely, first on the stovetop and then in the refrigerator--this helps a lot in getting the mixture to thicken and make a good spoonful of filling. When the humitas have cooled completely, you're ready to fill the empanadas.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly dust a baking sheet with flour.
Lay out the tapas four at a time on a clean countertop, lightly dusted with flour. Put out a small glass of water for sealing the empanadas, along with a small glass with one beaten egg, for brushing over the empanadas before baking.
Place a heaping tablespoon of the humitas filling in the center of the empanada shell.
Moisten the edge on the top half of the shell with a little water on your finger. Fold the bottom half of the dough up until the edges meet and seal with your fingers by pressing down. The empanada should have a half-moon shape.
Use the palms of the hands to pack the filling firmly in the center. Next, fold the edges with the Repulgue: (Video clip) you can also use this repulgue option: (another clip). Using your fingertip, fold one corner of the empanada over, pressing down firmly. Go to the edge again and repeat, pressing firmly each time. Move around the edge of the empanada and you'll get a spiral pattern. You can also use a fork-seal, instead. Place the finished empanadas on on the baking sheet, and then gently put a few holes in the top of the empanada to release the heat and prevent the empanada filling from popping out.
Paint the top of each sealed empanada with the beaten egg so that when they bake, they have a shiny, golden shell. Put the empanadas in to bake for about 15 minutes--they should be golden brown on top.
Take out and let cool slightly before serving, and eat very carefully while hot!