Goodness, there are few comforts quite like bread and melted cheese. I think it’s starting to dawn on me that nearly everything tastes best when it’s warm and reminiscent of some type of childhood favorite. Of course, as a kid, my choices of cheese-covered carbs teetered a fairly even balance between grilled cheese and pizza. It hasn’t been until recent years that the flattened counterpart to those has outshone its competitors.
Quesadillas are essentially a combination of my two favorite, melted cheese-based comfort foods. We sandwich cheese between two tortillas and heat the round until the outsides are crisp and browned, and the insides are delicate, feather-soft goo. The great thing is, you can dip them in a variety of vegetable-based salsas and condiments (friends, have you met my favorite guacamole, my black bean salsa, or my mango avocado salsa?). You can also add interesting ingredients (please refer to that time I added black beans, goat cheese, and chipotles). In my opinion, the best way to eat a quesadilla-as with all comfort foods, really-is in honor of a favorite memory.
It wasn’t until recent months, in which I ended up possessing a jar of sweet, distinctive onion jam, that I got to thinking about the recipe I am sharing with you. Now, onions are the best kind of vegetable, because they can infuse an entire dish with their complexity. What I adore most, though, is the change they undergo while cooking. Heat brings out this rich, caramel personality in onions; though their character is maintained while cooking, it really transforms into a complex mix of sweet and pungent. Which is why onion jam is such an important condiment when it comes to sprucing up savory dishes.
One whiff from that jar of onion jam, and I was transported back to wintertime several years ago, in which I stood at a kiosk in the cold eating Zwiebelkuchen (essentially, onion cake) with my German cousins at Christmastime. Don’t worry, it is not lost on me that we don’t often see savory cakes here in North America, but I would like to direct your attention to the variety of croissants, biscuits, scones, and muffins we consume here featuring ham, cheese, spinach, chives, etc. at various bakeries. Maybe we just do savory pastries a little differently on this side of the globe.
With that memory, I grabbed that onion jam, dabbed it atop a base of tortillas and Muenster, a mild, semi-soft cheese that melts wonderfully. And then I sprinkled all of that with smoked sweet paprika and cayenne. And once it was cooked and quartered on the plate in front of me, I dipped it in roasted tomato salsa and cayenne-speckled sour cream. Because.
Obviously, these are non-traditional quesadillas, with their weird cheese and their jam and their Eastern European spices. Each bite is infused with flavors ranging from mild to smoky, from sweet to spicy, from nostalgic to inventive. And the hardest part of it all is grating the Muenster. Which is not hard at all.
^^Like I said, it’s semi-soft. Goodness, that was cheesy. So was that. OMG. Sorry.
One Year: Malted Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two Years: Prune, Pistachio, and Dark Chocolate Muffins
Three Years: Mixed Greens with Basil, Feta, and Lemon-Oregano Vinaigrette.
Muenster Quesadillas with Onion Jam and Smoked Paprika
Recipe for one quesadilla (that is easily replicated)
2 8-inch tortillas
1/4 – 1/2 cup grated Muenster cheese (as desired)
1 1/2 tbsp onion jam
smoked sweet paprika, as desired
ground cayenne, as desired
To serve: sour cream, cayenne (for sprinkling), roasted tomato salsa
Heat a large nonstick pan on medium heat. Evenly spread desired amount of grated Muenster cheese on one tortilla. Gently dollop little bits of onion jam around the tortilla. Sprinkle this evenly with desired amount of smoked paprika and cayenne. Top with other tortilla and transfer to saucepan. Cover to allow cheese to melt, cooking the first side until golden brown and slightly crisp, about 3 minutes. Gently flip and brown the other side, another 1-2 minutes. Slice into quarters and serve with sour cream sprinkled with cayenne and roasted tomato salsa.