Shortly after my husband and I started dating, his mom wanted to take me to Union City, New Jersey, lovingly referred to as Little Cuba. It’s such a cool little town. The streets are lined with dress shops, linen men’s shirts, and cafeterias and cafes where you can get rice and beans, Cuban sandwiches, little cups of espresso, and glorious fruity shakes. But my favorite is Chica’s Bakery, where I was introduced to the pastelito. They are rich little pastries with a savory meat filling (or fruit and cheese), and the top is crusted in sweetness. I was in love. His family ordered them for all the holidays, and they were the first thing to disappear, with good reason!
My husband and I moved to upstate New York a few years later. We weren’t too far up, still a stretch commute into Manhattan, but up there. I remember calling my mother-in-law when I was pregnant with our youngest, begging her to drive up with pastelitos. She did! I had to figure out how to make them myself! I experimented in my kitchen until I came up with pastelitos that we absolutely adore. I’ve been making them for years now.
These have been my little one’s favorite food since she was tiny. She decided that today was the day I was going to teach her how to make them, so you can see in the photos that they’re doable the first time out! 🙂
The recipe below is for my decadent holiday pastelitos. It makes enough filling for two recipes. I give a variation for a lighter version for everyday weeknight dinners at the end. I hope you love them, too! If you do, come find me again! 🙂
Preheat the oven to 400°F or 205°C, depending on what side of the pond you’re standing on.
2 T Olive oil
Heat a large skillet to medium and warm olive oil.
1 slice bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped (yellow, white, or red)
1 green pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 bay leaves
Add, and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
½ lb lean ground pork
½ lb lean ground beef (I use 90%)
Add and cook til browned. People always say browned, but it’s grayed, really. Graying your food doesn’t have that saliva-inducing ring to it, so browning it is. If you used beef or pork with a higher fat percentage, drain it.
1/3 cup sherry (or dry white wine like a chardonnay)
Add and stir for about a minute til it’s evaporated.
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
Push everything to the sides to clear a little spot in the center. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring it around for about a minute, then stir it into everything else.
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (I love the lime and cilantro Rotel)
¼ cup raisins, chopped
¼ cup Spanish olives with pimento, chopped
1 Tablespoon oregano
1 Tablespoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Add. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring once in awhile. Discard the bay leaves.
4 sheets (2 packages) Puff pastry that you’ve let thaw out on the counter
A little bowl of water
Use a rolling pin to roll out the sheets just a bit to about 10” by 13”. Cut a sheet into 12 with a knife or pizza wheel. Add about 2 Tablespoons of filling to each. Use your finger to moisten the edges with water. Cut another sheet into 12. One at a time, stretch the square a smidge, lay it over a square with filling, and press around the little mound to get rid of air, and press the edges to seal. Repeat with the other two sheets. If some of the edges aren’t perfectly sealed, don’t worry. These aren’t getting tossed into water or oil, where you’d have to worry about filling leaking out.
1/3 cup honey
Warm in the microwave til runny, then brush the tops.
3/4 cup Sugar
Press the sticky, honey side into the sugar. Place on the prepared baking sheet, sugared side up. Bake at 400°F for about 20 minutes.
This makes twice as much filling (picadillo) as needed for the pastelitos. Lucky! Freeze the leftover to make pastelitos again another day, or use it to fill tacos, as a dip for tostones (plantain chips), or spoon it over rice or cauliflower rice. My kids always grab it for their lunchboxes, so I never get any leftovers…
Regular day variation. ~~Twice as much healthy filling, but only a quarter of the puff pastry and half the honey and sugar!!!! ~~ I grew up in Wisconsin, and like to challenge myself into converting everything into casseroles. I would tell you it’s genetic, but that’s obviously nonsense because people in Cheeseland have all sorts of different ethnic make-ups. So it must be the snow making us all shove things into comforting casserole dishes. Anywho, it’s much less muffin-top inducing this way… Put all of the filling in a 9″x13″ casserole pan. Cover with one thawed sheet of puff pastry. Brush the top with honey and sprinkle with sugar. Poke about 12 holes evenly across the surface of the pastry to allow steam to escape and let your pastry crisp. Bake at 400°F for about 20 minutes.
Serve with a big, glorious bowl of tropical fruit, or a pineapple avocado salad.