One of the most famous products of Galician gastronomy is the empanada, whose historical roots make us travel to the Middle Ages. Precisely in a town with an important heritage from this period, Noia, we can find one of the best traditional preparations.
Empanada stands out for its versatility, because it admits a wide variety of ingredients. Thus, we can find stuffed with meat, vegetables, fish or seafood. The mass can be made of wheat flour (the most common) or corn.
This local product also adapts to different consumption possibilities: you can eat it hot or cold; as a starter or as the main dish.
Among the wide range of preparations and presentations that we can find throughout the Galician geography, in the village of Noia (A Coruña) the local specialty combines, with great wisdom, fruits of the land and the sea: is the empanada made with corn mass and filled with cockles.
The secrets of the empanada de Noia
At Noia we can find a great variety of empanadas. The one made with wheat has peculiarity of being made with a fatter mass.
Among the different kinds of empanada made with corn, the most famous is the one filled with cockles, a bivalve of which Noia is also an important producer. Other possible filling options are cuttlefish, octopus or cod.
Some of the secrets to getting a good empanada lie in the experience and wisdom of the person who makes it, but also in the product that is selected for its preparation. According to Sesé Fernández, in charge of the bakery Forno do Couto, in Noia, one of the main points is to “buy local and top quality product.” “Also it is important to fry the onion in the pan” she says.
However, having good raw materials is not the only important thing for the perfect empanada. As Fernández confesses, it is also essential to “work with love and use a good oven, ideally made of stone”.
The local baker points out that “empanada has a long tradition in Noia“. In her family, knowledge has been transmitted from generation to generation: “my grandmother always did it and, later, my mother did too,” she points.
It is true that this product has great recognition in the town. Every August, the town celebrates a local festival starring the empanada, an opportunity to taste all the wide variety of possibilities that this tasty product offers.
Empanada and corn: a little bit of history
As the historian Xavier Castro says in his book A mesa e manteis. Historia da alimentación en Galicia, nowadays empanada is the “emblematic menu” of Galician gastronomy. In the past, it was one of the “medieval pillars” in the region.
Close to Noia there are some testimonies of the existence of this product in the Middle Ages: in the Pórtico de la Gloria in de Catedral de Santiago de Compostela (late 12th century) there is the first known representation. Without leaving the capital of Galicia, we can find another possible reference in the Pazo de Xelmírez (early 13th century). The literature of the time also includes allusions to this delicacy, as is the case with the Cantigas de Santa María by Afonso X El Sabio (13th century).
In the case of corn, it was one of the products that reached Europe after the discovery of America. Time will pass between the first introduction and the expansion of its use and cultivation in Galicia, so we will have to wait until the 17th century to find references to its habitual use in feeding Galician population.
Tastes of the Muros-Noia estuary
In addition to the empanada and the cockles from the Muros and Noia estuary, there are other delicacies in the region that are worth trying, especially in regard to fish and shellfish.
One of the essential gastronomic plans on a tour of this region of A Coruña is to taste the sardine of Portosín, in Porto do Son. In summer, this product is tributed by locals in a popular festival.
Do you have a recipe for the corn empanada that you can share? I had various iterations of corn-based empanada when I was in Galicia last summer and have been dreaming of it ever since. I would like to make a version with salt cod. Thanks. Linda @wildgreensandsardines