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I grew up in California and my wife is from Texas, so we both have pretty decent quesadilla game. As a kid I always loved the crispy bits that escaped the tortilla and so as an adult came up with a recipe to make more of a good thing. The lacy cheese skirt is crisp, and a great contrast to the soft melted cheese and fluffy tortilla. The recipe below is a basic template that’s a perfect starting point for your experiments. We discovered that queso and za’atar are great together for example.
Makes 8 tortillas, 1 quesadilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold lard or unsalted butter, chopped in small pieces
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/3 cup grated melting cheese (classic California style is a mix of jack and mild cheddar)
1 tsp butter, divided
Add all dry ingredients plus the fat to a food processor and pulse until it resembles coarse sand. Start the processor and slowly add the water, processing until the dough comes together in a ball.
Remove to a lightly floured board and knead for a minute and form a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Divide into 8 equal pieces and roll each into a ball. Place these under the wrap or towel and let rest another 15 minutes.
Preheat a flat griddle or pan over high heat. Form tortilla on a floured board, first squishing the ball into a rough circle with your palm, then rolling it out to an eight inch circle with a rolling pin. Or use a tortilla press. Cook each side until browned in places, about 45 seconds per side. Use immediately, or store in an insulated container under a clean cloth.
While you can use store bought flour tortillas in a pinch, the homemade ones are fluffier and especially suited for quesadillas. To store any extra, place between sheets of parchment, then into a plastic bag, then squeeze all the air out, seal well, and date. Freeze and use within a month for best results. I usually reheat them either in the microwave if doing a couple, or wrapped in foil in the oven if doing a bunch, no need to remove the parchment.
Melt 1/2 teaspoon butter in a non-stick skillet (I like using my frittata pans) over medium high heat. In a second non-stick skillet* over medium heat add the remaining butter in the center of the pan and the sharp cheddar in a ring about the size of the tortilla, leaving the center bare. Add your first tortilla to the pan containing only butter, sprinkle the melting cheese on evenly, and place the other tortilla on top.
After about two minutes flip the quesadilla with a spatula into the second pan, trying to center it on the cheese ring (don't worry if it's a bit messy or off-center). Cook for about two minutes more then remove the pan from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes for the cheese crust to set.
Remove to a cutting board, slice, and serve.
*if you have a seasoned/non-stick two-burner griddle you can use this instead of two pans and it'll work great
• Gruyere and Pear (pictured) - Use a blend of 50:50 muenster and gruyere for the melting cheese. Use grana padano or parmigiano reggiano for the cheese crust. Top the melting cheese with some thin pear slices, dust with Apollonia N29 and add 1 tsp of chestnut honey, then proceed as usual. Garnish with cornichon, pearl onions, and cracked black pepper.
• Summer or Winter Squash and Fontina - Use fontina for the melting cheese, and add sautéed slices of summer squash, or cooked diced winter squash or pumpkin, depending on what is in season. Top with either Luberon N.4 (if you like herbs) or Izak N.37 (if you like cumin) and place the second tortilla on top. Use aged gouda for the cheese crust. Garnish with sherry vinegar pickled raisins. Want to get fancy? Try queso Oaxaca and squash blossoms inside instead.
• Spring Herb - Use mozzarella for the melting cheese. Add 1/4 cup of sautéed spring greens (I like a mix of parsley, dill, cilantro, spring onions, and arugula, reserve some finely chopped for garnish), and a big pinch of Tangier N23 or Isphahan N1. Use parmigiano for the cheese crust. Garnish with fresh herbs, and serve with a pomegranate molasses, walnut, and mint pistou.
• Queso and Za'atar - Classic queso is a one-pound block of velveeta chopped and mixed with a 10-ounce can of Rotel tomatoes. Tinker with this if you dare, but it's already spot-on perfect. Use queso for the melting cheese (1/3 cup) and dust liberally with za'atar before placing the second tortilla on top. Use sharp cheddar for the cheese crust. Garnish with slices of red onion pickled in vinegar and za'atar.
• Want to make it meaty? All of these variations are great with some roast pork inside. Recipe here.
Food image and recipe © Christian Leue
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