Monday, January 12, 2009

We made Acorn Squash Quesadillas

Monday night Alena and I had plans to make dinner and—we’ll be honest—watch Gossip Girl. This is something we’ve done a few times before, but have always gotten so wrapped up in the cooking that we end up missing part of the show. We decided to start earlier this time and emailed all day about what to make. Finally, inspired by Laura’s earlier post on acorn squash, we settled on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Although we didn’t end up finishing before the show, we still managed to enjoy the episode and cook during commercials. Overall, it was a great success. The quesadillas were really hearty and had a great combination of flavors. And the leftovers even kept a few days in the fridge. I wrapped them in foil and took them to work with me, and even microwaved, they were still delicious.

Here are some things we learned from this experience:
1. Acorn squash really is a pain in the ass to cut. We really had to struggle with it. But once we were able to saw it in half, cutting the smaller pieces was much easier.
2. None of the grocery stores on the Polish side of Greenpoint sell poblano peppers or queso blanco. If we’d had the determination to go all the way down to the C-Town on the other side of town, we might have had better luck, but our substitutes worked fine.
3. Hand blenders are awesome. I hate using blenders or food processors because I can never get them to work right and they are annoying to clean. This is in direct conflict with my love of pesto, blended soups and as this recipe calls for, tomatillo salsa. But I forgot about the existence of hand blenders, and even forgot that my grandma gave me one a few years ago that I only used once or twice.
4. Chuck Bass is maybe the only character on TV that can get away with using the words “Dickensian” and “hoi polloi” in the same episode.

Here is the recipe, copied and pasted with our adjustments and commentary in bold:

Acorn Squash Quesadillas
Adapted from a Dos Caminos demonstration recipe, but similar to many found in their awesome book, ModMex

The secret to getting your quesadillas crisp, Lindquist insisted, is to cook them in either butter or lard, and no skimping. Not true. I have always fried my quesadillas in olive or vegetable oil, and they are always light and crispy. A griddle is best if you have one, but a regular old frying pan will do in a pinch. Duh—we used a frying pan and did two at once.

1 small/medium acorn squash
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons diced white onion (We used a whole yellow.)
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 clove garlic, minced (We roasted several cloves with the squash.)
2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled and cut into strips (Again, no poblanos in Greenpoint. We just used regular green peppers and it was fine. The salsa was so spicy that the quesadillas didn’t really need any extra kick.)
Salt and pepper to taste
10-inch flour tortillas
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend of your choice (I used Muenster, not Mexican but worked great!) “Shredded Mexican cheese blend”? Deb, Deb, Deb (Smitten Kitchen author). Are you talking about those packages of orange and yellow Kraft confetti? And what do you think “Mexican” cheese is, anyway? We would have used queso blanco but couldn’t find it, so we settled on Muenster because we thought we needed something salty to balance out the sweetness of the squash.
Butter for frying quesadillas Again, veg or olive oil is just fine.
Garnishes: Julienned radishes, crema or sour cream and/or salsa verde cruda (recipe below)

First, roast the acorn squash. Preheat the oven to 400° and lightly oil a baking sheet. Halve the squash, scoop out the seeds (you can save them to toast later, if you wish) and cut each half into half-inch slices. Lay them on the baking sheet (with a few cloves of garlic!) and roast for about 20 minutes, until soft but not cooked to mush. (You’ll finish it in the pan.)

When cool enough to work with, use a paring knife or your hands to peel the skin off each slice. Lightly chop the squash and put it in a bowl.

Saute the onions, garlic and jalapeno in the oil until translucent. Add the poblano strips and cook for a couple minutes more. Add the squash and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes, until the squash is tender and the flavors have melded. Season with salt and pepper and take off heat.

Spread a few tablespoons of the cooked squash mixture onto one half of a 10-inch flour tortilla. Sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of the cheese. Fold over and place in a hot pan with oil, and fry until crispy. Cut the finished quesadilla into four triangles and top with your choice of garnishes. Eat while warm.

These are a little tricky to fry because they have so much stuff in them and are hard to flip, but you’ll get the hang of it. My technique is just to use enough oil to thinly coat the pan, and then fry on medium heat so the tortillas don’t burn before the cheese melts. Use your judgment on when to flip, depending on if you like them lightly browned or almost burnt. I think I ended up cooking mine maybe two minutes or so on either side?

Tomatilla Salsa [Salsa Verde Cruda]

We roasted the tomatillos for this and threw in some of the garlic we roasted with the squash. We highly recommend this.
10 tomatillos, husked and well washed, quartered
1/2 bunch of scallions, roots and green ends trimmed, cut into big segements
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 jalapenos, roughly chopped (I think we used more than this. Maybe three.)
Pinch of allspice (We did not use this. Just some black pepper was fine.)
Salt to taste. Puree all ingredients together until very smooth either in a blender or food processor or with a hand blender. Season with salt and pepper.

There was a lot of left over salsa. I have since used it on sandwiches and just this morning put it on some eggs.

Sarah roasted a jalapeno on top of the burner (apparently she is a daredevil and uses this technique all the time - AK)

Blending up the salsa.

We also made a semi-improvised salad, which was crunchy and delicious, a great compliment to the creamy texture of the squash and melted cheese in the quesadillas. I was really into this salad. We started by purchasing a red cabbage and some radishes, which we decided that we would thinly chop and add to some mixed greens that Sarah had at home. After a bit more thought, we decided to add some hearts of palm, grated carrot, and slivers of red onion. We made a light, tangy vinagrette to pour on top. After the success of this salad, I felt inspired to use more red cabbage from now on. - AK


  1. I never thought of using a hand blender for salsa, but that is such a good idea!

  2. I GOT NEWS FOR YOU. Ctown on Manhattan and India has poblanos.