This column focuses on simple, high-flavor cooking—food that can be made in minutes by people with no special culinary skill. My goal to demystify the home kitchen, to show that cooking can be an everyday, enjoyable activity that results in nutritious and fun-to-eat fare.
This edition of Tom's Kitchen focuses on something so simple that I'm flirting with self-parody: the quesadilla, which has emerged in the modern US kitchen as a kind of new-wave grilled-cheese sandwich. Who doesn't know how to make a quesadilla? Simply grate cheese, fold into tortilla, and heat until cheese is melted. Millions of people, some of them under 10, do it daily.
But with good ingredients and a few simple techniques, quesadillas can actually be quite sublime. Over the years at Maverick farms, my coworkers and I practiced the craft of quesadilla-making almost daily, using it as a vehicle to highlight fresh farm eggs and whatever produce was coming off the farm at any particular point in time. The fried-egg quesadilla emerged as the Maverick Farms lunch par excellence (also, sometimes, as "second breakfast," taken mid-morning after hours of harvesting).
I'm away from the farm for a while spending time in Austin, but yearning for the days of fried-egg quesadillas. So I've been making them using produce from local farms—mainly two excellent and highly productive inner-city ones just miles from where I'm living, Boggy Creek and Springdale farms.
Right now, Central Texas farms are harvesting a magnificent tomato crop; arugula is coming in abundant and peppery; and fresh, uncured garlic is everywhere. So I built this batch of quesadilla around them.
Fried-Egg Quesadillas with Salsa Cruda
1 big, beautiful purple cherokee tomato
½ of a small red onion
1 clove fresh, uncured garlic
1-2 hot peppers
4-6 farm eggs (depending on how many each eater wants)
Salt, pepper, and paprika
3 flour tortillas, as fresh as possible (I use whole wheat ones from Austin's Margarita's Tortilla Factory)
About 4 oz good melting cheese (I use Organic Valley Raw Sharp Cheddar), sliced thin crosswise or grated)
1 good handful spicy arugula or other salad green, chopped or torn into bit-sized pieces
Make the salsa.
I went into this project planning to simply the slice the tomatoes and fold them, along with some thin-sliced red onion, into the tortillas as they toasted—a perfectly good way to go. But when the ingredients were arrayed before me, I couldn't resist making what's known in Mexico as a salsa cruda, which is simply a chopped sauce featuring raw tomatoes, chiles, and garlic.
Salsa crudas are incredibly simple. First chop your tomato into little chunks, then finally chop the red onion. Next, crush the garlic clove with the flat side of a chef's knife, remove the peel, and and sprinkle coarse salt over it. Now coarsely chop your chile pepper or peppers, and lay the pieces over the garlic clove. Sprinkle more coarse salt over the chile pieces. Using a rocking motion and lifting the knife blade occasionally to scrape off chile/garlic mixture, chop the hell out of the chiles and the garlic all together. The coarse salt will help break everything down into a paste. Once the chile/garlic mix is pretty well minced, put it in a little mound, lay the flat side of your knife over it, and push down hard with your hand. Chop a little more and you have a nice paste. Combine all ingredients into a small bowl, stir, and taste for salt and flavor balance. The tomato I used, a purple cherokee from Boggy Creek, had a beautiful combination of sweetness and acidity, and the finished salsa needed nothing. If it seems a bit too sweet, consider adding a bit of cider vinegar or lemon or lime juice. Set aside.
Make the Quesadillas
Now put two skillets—the biggest one you have for the quesadillas and another one (size depending on how many eggs you're using) for the eggs—over medium heat. Add a healthy knob of butter to the egg skillet. Place all three tortillas on the hot quesadilla skillet. They won't fit flat—that's okay. Twirl them around to toast them a bit all over then flip them, so that half of each is laying flat, with its other half draped over the edge of the skillet (see photo). Lay a bit of each cheese over each, and let them toast. Turn the heat down a bit.
Now the butter will have melted and be good and hot. Crack the eggs into the skillet. You should have a good sizzle. Turn the heat down a bit, and dust each egg with salt, pepper, and paprika. After a couple of minutes, flip them, and cook them to your desired level of doneness. I prefer a slightly runny yolk.
Now add an egg or two to each tortilla, along with a bit of chopped arugula and a lashing of the salsa cruda, which you should scoop out with a fork so it drains a bit. Fold the odd end of the tortilla over the flat part, and flip. The top side should now be golden-brown. Cook until the bottom side is browned, too, and serve with salsa.