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QUESADILLAS : Some decry the poetic license being taken with quesadilla recipes by several local chefs, but few will be able to resist the results of their creativity.

April 14, 1988|JOAN DRAKE | Times Staff Writer

Even a simple recipe like quesadillas can reach new heights when placed in the hands of creative chefs. That's precisely what's happening in restaurants around Los Angeles.

Purists might argue that Rebecca's deep-fried Spinach and Roasted Garlic Quesadillas are actually empanaditas. So be it. These hot, crispy turnovers are filled with sauteed spinach, roasted garlic, pasilla chile and Jack cheese. Frying browns the masa and melts the cheese inside. They're served with Tomatillo-Cilantro Salsa.

Sabroso uses the same basic techniques to prepare their Blue Corn Harinilla Quesadillas, filled with refried black beans and Cheddar cheese. Harinilla is a fine grind of blue cornmeal, practically the texture of flour. If unavailable at markets, the restaurant sells it at $3 a pound. The Times Test Kitchen created a similar product by grinding coarser blue cornmeal in a food processor.

After watching Rebecca's chef Bill Hufferd prepare their specialty, we referred to detailed written instructions from Janine Coyle of Sabroso and, with a little practice, were able to duplicate the procedure of forming and filling the tortillas (see step-by-step instructions, Page 11). A deep-fat fryer was used to control the temperature of the lard and oil during frying.

Brie and Papaya Filling

At Authentic Cafe, owner Roger Hayot and chef Gerard Burgos prepare a quesadilla filled with Brie cheese, finely diced papaya and, once again, pasilla chile. A traditional flour tortilla, topped with the filling ingredients, is warmed on the grill until the cheese begins to melt. Then it's folded, cut and served with guacamole, sour cream and the restaurant's freshly made salsa.

Papaya is also used in the relish served with the Leek and Goat Cheese Quesadillas at Sonora Cafe. There it's combined with mango and strawberries and flavored with lime juice and chopped mint. Guajillo Chile Sauce is another accompaniment. If the canned chile pastes called for in this recipe are not available, make them by adding water to ground chiles; or soak whole chiles in warm water, then drain off almost all the liquid, peel chiles and remove the seeds before pureeing the pulp in a blender or food processor.

John Sedlar, in keeping with the style of food served in St. Estephe restaurant, combined his Hispanic heritage, French training and artistic touch to create Montrachet Cheese Quesadillas With Chanterelle Mushrooms, Fresh Herbs and Red Wine Sauce.

A French Touch

Sedlar begins with freshly made gorditas, the small, thicker flour tortillas whose name translates as "little fatties." Montrachet goat cheese adds a French touch, as do the chanterelle mushrooms and red wine sauce under and around the baked gordita triangle.

Along the same vein, Elka Gilmore of Tumbleweed drew on her Texas roots to create the restaurant's Quesadilla Filled With Brisket of Beef and Queso Anejo. Their beef is slow-smoked with hickory wood. It won't be quite the same, but you can approximate this flavor with the recipe included for Smoked Hickory Brisket (or if in a big hurry, add a bit of liquid smoke to oven roasted brisket).

Commercially made corn tortillas may be substituted, but the freshly made version were preferred by our tasters. If queso anejo is not available, substitute queso fresco.

The Blue Crab and Black Bean Quesadillas of Ambrosia Caterers are one alternative from a quesadilla bar they set up at parties. Other items used to create custom quesadillas for guests include mushrooms, onion, chicken, crab and Mexican cheese. Guacamole, sour cream and salsa fresca are also on the bar, to be added as desired.

If the Louisiana blue crab called for in the recipe is not available, other fresh crab may be substituted. Here again, you may need to use queso fresco for the cheese. The Chipotle Sauce may be made by pureeing canned chiles.

REBECCA'S SPINACH AND ROASTED GARLIC QUESADILLAS

10 unpeeled cloves garlic

1 medium pasilla chile

1/2 large bunch spinach leaves

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 ounces grated Jack cheese

6 ounces fresh prepared masa

Melted lard or shortening for deep frying

Tomatillo-Cilantro Salsa

Roast garlic at 350 degrees 5 to 10 minutes or until soft. Peel, mince coarsely and set aside.

Roast chile over gas flame or hot coals until skin turns black and bubbles. Place in plastic bag and set aside 2 to 3 minutes. Rinse off blackened skin under running water. Remove seeds and core, then finely dice chile and set aside.

Clean and coarsely chop spinach leaves. Saute briefly in olive oil in large skillet or saute pan. Add salt, garlic and chile. Continue to cook over medium heat until spinach is fully wilted. Cool, then fold cheese into spinach mixture and set aside.

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