Continuing with my current obession with Mexican food my next entry will be the ever popular (in our household anyway) Quesadilla. I first discovered these little beauties in Nigella Express, my favourite go to cookbook ever since it was released a few years ago. The thing I love about Nigella is her attitude towards cooking, which I think in many ways reflects my own. I can rustle up just about anything from any given, no matter how obscure, ingredients: my Husband has named this skill ‘making something out of nothing’. It’s true. I rarely say “we’ve got nothing in the cupboard” because even when it’s looking pretty sparse in there I somehow manage to conjur up a more than edible meal for two. Many of Nigella’s recipes are ever adaptable and although she can be scrict about certain things – only large organic eggs, maldon salt etc. etc. – generally speaking her dishes are fabulously accessible, which is, I think, at the crux of her popularity.
Until I purchased Nigella Express I’d never heard of a quesadilla and I consider myself to be a well informed foodie. But I needn’t feel so bad. London is not exactly coming down with Mexican restaurants and the one I eat at most – Cafe Pacifico on Langley Street – doesn’t have an extensive menu and besides, being a creature of habit, I always order the chimichanga.
I was so excited to try a quesadilla I immediately ran out and bought a griddle pan because if you’re going to do something you might as well do it right. Right? I was not disappointed. The crispy exterior. The oozing melted cheese. The tang of the jalapenos. The salty meatiness of the ham. All of it combines to create one harmonious whole that is the quesadilla.
So when I came to Chi-town and realised I lived right smack bang in the middle of a Mexican district literally teaming with amazing restaurants I quick footed it to the nearest one to order me a quesadilla. But what happened surprised me. The quesadilla they served me just didn’t hit the spot I was expecting it to. Yes, I was a novice at ordering in these etablishments so I can be blamed for some of the let down. First of all you have to request meat and most of the time ham is not an option: don’t get me wrong, a chicken quesadilla is nice but it’s not in the same league as salty slices of pork – this is all subjective, of course. Secondly, it was the lack of those smoky griddled lines on the tortilla that totally underwhelmed me too. So that is why I’m taking a leaf out of Nigella’s book and getting strict about a few things, well one thing really. If you want a decent quesadilla get yourself a griddle pan. Tell yourself it’s an investment, that it’s crucial for steaks or whatever it is to justify it but do buy one. I’ve just returned to my ‘real’ kitchen and the first thing I had to do was get mine out. Don’t judge me but I get all dreamy when I think about certain kitchen utensils and this is one them: black cast iron, weighs a ton, is a bugger to clean but griddles magnificently. I could on – about the pan and the quesadillas – but I won’t. Suffice to say they are sheer loveliness and if you serve them at a party to your friends they will love you forever.
4 soft tortillas (wholewheat if you can get them)
4-6 large slices of ham
60g monterey jack cheese
60g munster (cheddar and red leicester if you can’t get the other two)
6 slices jalapeno peppers
oil for brushing
You can fit two quesadillas in a griddle pan so lay out 2 tortillas for preparing. Heat griddle pan on a medium heat – do not add oil.
Cover the whole tortilla with ham. Sprinkle half with cheese and top with a small handful of chopped jalapenos.
Fold tortillas in half so you get a half moon shape. Lightly brush one side with oil. I use a mixture of canola and olive oil.
Place the tortillas oil side down onto the heated griddle pan. You can then oil the other side: it’s much less messy this way. It should only take a few minutes each side but you can lift them up to check. It’s personal preference but I like the griddle lines to be fairly dark but obviously not burnt. Turn over and let them cook for several minutes on the other side. I think tongs are essential here too.
Cut each tortilla into three triangles and have a sauce for dunking. Nigella recommends salsa but Hubbie isn’t so keen on tomatoes so we have a tomatillo taco sauce, which I think unfortunately you can only get in the US. You could use whatever you like, even, dare I say it, ketchup – not very Mexican but who doesn’t like it!
Eat and repeat:)