On today's menu...


M:“Vanessa! Vanessa! You are ready?” Maria is calling out as I arrive. “Ah ‘Elen you are in time. I will show you now, the best pastry ever. Totally amazing!”

“You need a glass of water. Hot water.” Maria half fills a tumbler with hot water. “And fill it up with olive oil.” she glugs oil to fill the glass to the rim. “See? Half and half. Into the bowl,” Maria tips the water-oil mix into the bowl, “Salt” and she taps the salt shaker over the bowl.

“Carefully measured?” I joke.

“Very carefully. A su gusto!

“What?”

A su gusto, to your liking – a su gusto! And then you put some flour (self-raising)… Get two spoons, one is going there in the bowl and the other one, you use to keep putting flour…” She spoons tablespoons of flour into the bowl over the oil-water mix. “About six to start, but you will need some more.”

I’m not convinced. Vanessa looks unsure. The bowl looks like it’s full of porridge, Maria continues stirring.

“It’s a pastry that, never, never, never fails.” She adds another four tablespoons. “Then four more. But this is a pastry with no measurements. You just stir until it’s OK! This is how my mother made pastry, she didn’t have a mixer like today, or scales, she didn’t even have an oven.” Maria says, almost to herself. And, before our very eyes, the sticky goo, turns into a silky, golden ball of dough.

“That’s amazing!”

“You made it look so easy!” I say.

“It is, totally easy, no?” No, I think, imagining the sticky goo I’d make if I had a go.

The pastry master class is finished.




The ‘magic’ never-fail pastry is being used to make a typical Spanish snack called emapanadilla, which is on the lunch-time menu At Maria’s today

“Put the filling in the centre, make sure you have a bit of everything, then you just double up and… Viola! You have your empanadilla.” Maria says as she makes circles of pastry on the floured work top. “You remember when we were in Valencia, ‘Elen, we went to Manola’s in Vallada?” I laugh remembering the terrible storm that ended in a blizzard and 48 hours on an airport floor, “Well, this is Manola’s mother’s recipe. Very old. Very delicious. And cheap. My mother made these and just put in whatever she had in the cupboard. She always had tomatoes and eggs, sometimes spinach, sometimes not. Sometimes fresh cheese.”

Maria carries on patting out circles of pastry, brushing each circle with beaten egg then adding a spoonful of mixture from a frying pan.

“What’s in the pan?”


The tomato went into the frying pan first with the garlic. Then the peppers and fry for 10 mins. The tuna is drained and added, then the eggs. Removed the frying pan from the heat and add the pinenuts and parsley and Viola! As Maria says.

“You can change the filling, olives, feta cheese, spinach, tomatoes, pinenuts, this is vegetarian, leave out the feta cheese and it is totally vegan.” She finishes brushing the empandillas with beaten egg. “They go into a medium oven (170oC fan) for 25-30 minutes. OK! That’s it. We have coffee.”

PS: The empanadillas were delicious (of course). The (magic) pastry didn’t fail, it was light and crisp. The filling, gorgeous and that comes from Mrs fussy (as I’ve been christened by Maria) who doesn’t normally like tuna or hard boiled eggs, unless they’re in a Maria emapanadilla that is!

Totally delicious!

(The Pimientos del Piquillo and yellow fin tuna can be bought online from ultracomida https://www.ultracomida.co.uk)





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Words/photographs/illustrations© 2019 Helen  Lewis