Friday, July 30, 2010

Zucchini Quesadillas

I imagine that for today's children a cheese quesadilla is as common as a PB&J or toasted cheese sandwich was when I was a kid. But I didn't grow up making and eating them, so they don't seem mundane to me at all. They are one of my favorite things to eat for Sunday lunch.  On busy weeknights they often make an appearance on my dinner table along with some sliced tomatoes or a salad.

I appreciate any food that will function as a blank canvas upon which I can improvise with whatever ingredients the market and the season provide (pizza, pasta, savory tarts and salad greens are other "blank canvas" favorites). Quesadillas have the added charm of being all about crisp, sizzling bread filled with hot, melting cheese—pretty much at the top of my comfort food list.

Many things make good fillings for quesadillas—roasted or sautéed peppers (sweet or hot), cooked black beans, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted winter squash, cooked chorizo, grilled chicken—the list goes on and on. Quesadillas are also a great way to use up leftovers. As long as the ingredients that make up your filling are cooked and well-seasoned, you can hardly miss. Choose a nice melting cheese (Monterey Jack, Fontina, Chihuahua, etc.) to act as a "glue", add some herbs or spices, if you like, and you're done.

I think that pretty much everyone is comfortable making quesadillas (apparently even Napoleon Dynamite), so I will just mention a few things that I think are important to think about so you will end up with a nice crispy quesadilla that isn't soggy or greasy.

Even though a quesadilla is about hot cheese, use a light hand with the cheese. I think a couple of ounces of cheese is plenty for an 8-inch quesadilla. It might not look like much when it is scattered over the tortilla, but when it melts, two ounces is just about perfect. Too much more than that and you end up with a thick, unappetizing wad of melted cheese. Any other fillings you use should be added sparingly as well. Thick fillings tend to make the quesadilla soggy and stodgy.

To cook the quesadilla, a cast iron pan or griddle is ideal, but a nonstick pan will work too. Make sure that your pan is moderately hot so that the tortillas will brown in the amount of time it takes the cheese to melt. Add just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan—too much oil and the quesadilla will be greasy. To guard against this, you could lightly brush the quesadilla with oil, instead of adding the oil to the pan.

This time of year I am always looking for interesting ways to use zucchini. This quesadilla is one of my favorites. It also makes use of the sweet red onions that are abundant at the market right now and the thyme that is abundant in my back yard.

Zucchini Quesadilla

For each 8-inch Quesadilla:
3 to 4 t. vegetable or olive oil
1/4 cup diced (1/4-inch) red onion
2 or 3 sprigs of thyme, picked
1 small zucchini (about 3 oz.), trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly (1/8-inch thick) on a diagonal
½ c. (about 2 oz.) coarsely grated Fontina or Monterey Jack Cheese
2 8-inch flour tortillas

Heat a teaspoon or so of the oil in a small sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, tender and beginning to turn golden around the edges. Stir in the thyme and transfer the onions to a plate.

Return the pan to the heat and add more oil. Add the zucchini and sauté until tender and golden. Season with salt and pepper and add to the onions.

To build the quesadilla, spread half of the cheese over one of the tortillas. Spread the onion/zucchini mixture over the cheese and cover with the remaining cheese.

Top with the second tortilla. The quesadilla can be made to this point a few hours ahead—wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Heat a cast-iron or non-stick pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add a thin coat of oil. Place the quesadilla in the pan and cook until golden brown. Carefully turn the quesadilla over, adding more oil if necessary and continue to cook until the second side is golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Serve the quesadilla with salsa as a snack or an appetizer or with sliced vine-ripened tomatoes and avocados for lunch or a light dinner.


Jennifer said...

These are wonderful! Easy to make and vary and everyone at my house clamored for more.

Paige said...

Hi Cindy! So glad you like these. I think the shallots are a great idea. I made some a couple weeks ago with sauteed mushrooms, roasted corn, shallots & goat cheese. They were great. I forget that quesadillas are nice with additions other than cheese!