The Cast-Iron Quesadilla That Will Change The Way You Quesadilla

The crispiest, cheesiest quesadilla you'll ever make.
The crispiest, cheesiest quesadilla you’ll ever make.

When it comes to people, what’s on the inside is paramount.

But when it comes to this quesadilla, it’s what’s on the outside that truly rocks.

That’s because “The Cast-Iron Quesadilla That Will Change The Way You Quesadilla” (and yes, that is the actual name) boasts a flamboyant crispy-crunchy crust of cheese that entirely smothers its top tortilla.

Made with not one, not two, but three kinds of cheese, it will spoil you for any other quesadilla from now on.

The recipe is from the new cookbook, “Food IQ” (Harper Wave), of which I received a review copy. It’s by Daniel Holzman, founder and chef of the Meatball Shop restaurants in New York City and Danny Boy’s Famous Original Pizza in Los Angeles. His co-writer was Matt Rodbard, founding editor in chief of Taste, the James Beard Award-winning online magazine.

It sets out to answer 100 questions about food and cooking that are designed to make a home cook better and smarter in the kitchen. Answers and info are provided for each question, along with a recipe to put it all into practice.

For instance, ever wondered what the difference is between a red, white and yellow onion? Turns out a red is used primarily for its color; a white is more tender and less sharp tasting; and a yellow is the universal workhorse for pretty much any cuisine. Enjoy the yellow in “Whole Salt-Roasted Onions,” a four-ingredient recipe that makes for a fabulously caramelized side dish.

Ever get sticker-shock when frequenting your local farmers’ market? As Holzman and Rodbard rightly point out, that’s because we’re used to cheaper supermarket products grown by industrial farms that benefit from government subsidies and sanctions, ultra-high yield crops that may have been genetically modified, and robotic technology that cuts down on labor costs. But it’s the farmer who rises before the crack of dawn to sell their just-harvested produce at a farmers market who cares more about quality and sustainability. So, celebrate what they do, by making “Seasonal Fruit Galette with Yogurt Almond Crust.”

This quesadilla recipe illustrates how a cast-iron pan will absorb heat and maintain it far better than other materials.

And a well-seasoned cast-iron pan is just what you need to get the crispy outer layer of cheese on this quesadilla to lift off without sticking.

Grated mozzarella, cheddar and Jack cheese get sprinkled over a hot cast-iron skillet that’s been slicked with a little oil. Next, a toasted flour tortilla goes on top, followed by more cheese, then a second flour tortilla.

Grated cheese gets sprinkled on the bottom of the skillet.
Grated cheese gets sprinkled on the bottom of the skillet.

You’ll start to notice the shards of cheese on the outer edges of the pan start to melt and eventually coalesce into a sort of lacy-like mass. That’s when you know it’s time to start easing the edges off the pan in preparation for flipping the whole quesadilla over in the pan. If you have a fish spatula, which is thinner and more flexible than others, this is the time to use it. Once the quesadilla is flipped over, allow it to cook for a few minutes more. Then, remove it to a plate and serve it with whatever accompaniments you prefer, be it sour cream, guacamole, salsa, hot sauce or even refried bean dip.

Admittedly, my first attempt at this resulted in a very scorched quesadilla. It was still tasty, but it looked like it had just emerged from a coal mine. I’m not going to lie — it may require making a practice quesadilla to get this just right, kind of like how the first pancake is never the best one.

The first time around, I followed the directions to heat the pan on medium-high heat. On my second attempt, I turned the medium-high heat setting down just a tad with far better results. Every stove is different, of course, but I’d advise to use the lower end of medium-high heat, if that makes any sense.

Whatever you do, enjoy this quesadilla right away for maximum pleasure. Standard quesadillas are a little toasty on the outside with melty cheese within. This quesadilla is cheesy through and through, inside and outside, with a salty rich taste.

If you love those coveted crispy bits that form on the margins whenever you melt cheese — and who doesn’t — that’s what you get with this quesadilla in its entirety. It is like a giant version of a melted crispy cheese bit. If that doesn’t get you salivating, I don’t know what will.

Absolutely irresistible.
Absolutely irresistible.

The Cast-Iron Quesadilla That Will Change The Way You Quesadilla

(Serves 1)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

2 (8-inch) flour tortillas

1/3 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese

1/3 cup freshly grated Monterey Jack cheese

1/3 cup freshly grated Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup salsa of choice (optional)

1/4 cup sour cream (optional)

1/4 cup guacamole (optional)

Hot sauce for serving

Coat a well-seasoned cast-iron pan (you can use a nonstick pan if you’re feeling timid) with the oil, wiping out the excess with a paper towel, and warm the pan over medium-high heat.

Add a tortilla to the pan and toast until just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes, then remove and reserve.

Add half the cheese to the pan, sprinkling it evenly to make a circle just slightly larger in diameter than the tortilla. Carefully place the toasted tortilla on top of the cheese toasted side down, centering it. Spread the remaining cheese over the tortilla, then place the second tortilla on top of the cheese.

When the cheese has browned, after about 4 minutes, using a small metal spatula, carefully peel up an edge to get underneath. Once you have lifted up an edge, it should be easy to peel up the entire crispy mass with the spatula. Then, working carefully, flip the whole thing over to toast the second tortilla and melt the cheese in the interior. This should take about 3 minutes.

Serve the quesadilla piping hot with whatever accompaniments — salsa, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce — you like.

From “Food IQ” by Daniel Holzman and Matt Rodbard

Another Daniel Holzman Recipe to Enjoy: Bouillabaisse Meatballs

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  • This is a great technique for grilled cheese sandwiches too. For a non-stick pan you likely will not need the initial slick of oil. Since so much “cheese oil” cooks out as the delicious gooey stuff melts, it usually lifts off easily for the necessary flipping. So much crunchy delicious gooey goodness!!

    And, Carolyn, you’ve done it again. This, plus a couple of sliced fresh summer tomatoes = lunch goals today for sure! If I’m feeling decadent, I’ll likely put a couple of slices of tomato inside & haul out a bale of extra napkins!

  • Just made today. So easy to make. Wish I could attach photo. Best cheese quesedilla ever!

  • Hi Diana: Yay! So glad you loved the results. I know I’m never making a quesadilla any other way from now on. This is just so good!

  • Hi Carroll: This WOULD work on grilled cheese. You have me salivating at the thought. Who can resist crispy, melty cheese WITH tomatoes, right? 😉

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