1 part chaos, 2 parts calm
By Mary Ann Ebner
Food stations and tasting tables may save some sanity during peak celebration season, but nothing’s more personal than moving among a happy crowd to appreciate time with guests. If you’re hosting a gathering to usher in the New Year, consider passing delicate pastries and sharing conversation with those who have gathered to pause and enjoy each other’s company. Round up a smart serving tray (make it lightweight or you’ll be passing out before you pass the food) and dress it up with hors d’oeuvres.
If you don’t want to overdo it, forget elaborate selections and silverware. Some of us (that’s my hand in the air) are awkward with utensils to begin with. And who can manage when the task requires holding a petite plate, fork and knife, beverage and napkin, all while standing?
Appetizers enjoyed in a bite or two with one hand, or a fork if you must, help prevent clumsy encounters. For this year’s upcoming string of New Year soirées, I’m proposing the practical but elegant miniature turnover. Consider them distant cousins of empanadas, samosas, sambousiks, even pierogies and pot stickers. By any other name these amazing miniatures would taste as good. Toasted ravioli, easily the best small bite in Missouri, deserves a little love in this party-ready finger food category as well.
They’re all somewhat related and consist of a doughy cover or shell stuffed with vegetables, meat, cheese or a combination of fillings. Growing up, my first introduction to these tiny temptations was toasted ravioli, served with a marinara sauce. The best of these served in countless Italian restaurant dining rooms in St. Louis are crunchy and crispy yet not oily.
Amy Tan inspired a fascination with turnover-types when she introduced readers to jiaozi in The Joy Luck Club more than 20 years ago. Handmade Chinese dumplings started showing up on menus at restaurants from coast to coast. I couldn’t get enough ginger, soy sauce and boiled dumplings stuffed with pork but realized the best way to make them was with a group of friends creating a batch in assembly-line fashion.
Soon enough, I went on a bit of a binge buying frozen samosas — triangle-shaped and loaded with spices — from Trader Joe’s. I savored easy access when my family lived around the corner from TJ’s in central California. Later, I could drive 20 minutes or so to pick up a few boxes (packages of six) when I lived in Virginia. I still had a thing for these even when my commute stretched 50 miles to the nearest store. One of my neighbors, who worked in an area near TJ’s, picked up my wish-list items once a month and continued to help me sustain the craving.
But change can be good, and I finally attempted to create my own take on the tiny pockets of flavor. The variation I’ve come to enjoy most is a curried turnover, baked and not too greasy. These are make-ahead appetizers that can be prepared a couple of days in advance of serving. Once prepared, freeze them on a tray for one hour and then store them in a freezer bag or airtight container until party time. When you’re ready to share them, remove frozen turnovers from the freezer and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. What’s even more convenient, they’re delicious when served steamy-hot, but still a treat at room temperature.
Whether making turnovers in advance or just as you’re about to eat them, invite all hands to help with the assembly. Stuff turnovers with fillings from spinach and goat cheese to shredded meat or your favorite spicy vegetables and wrap up the year sharing a taste with family and friends.
Makes two dozen
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup (12 tablespoons or 1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons cold water
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
¾ cup milk
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound butternut squash, cubed
1 large shallot, chopped
1 can (16 ounces) hominy (drained)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh cilantro (finely chopped)
For the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in the butter, mixing evenly with a pastry blender or two knives. Add the water gradually until dough holds together. Do not handle dough too much or your turnovers will bounce off their plates. Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in saucepan. Blend in flour. Add milk gradually, stirring to a low boil. Add curry powder and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook 3 to 5 minutes over low heat. Set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in frying pan. Add squash, shallots, hominy, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat 15 minutes. Fold in curry mixture. Remove from heat and mash vegetable filling (I use a potato masher). Mix in cilantro.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Gently roll out dough on lightly floured surface. Using a round cookie cutter, pastry cutter or even a glass, cut dough into 3-inch circles. Add a tablespoonful of the cooked filling on one half of each circle, turning over the dough in half and sealing each circle. If dough does not hold, seal with a dab of water or egg white. Place turnovers on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes in preheated oven until lightly golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Stuff turnovers with this squash mixture or create your own filling.
Photos by M.A. Ebner