Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadillas

Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadilla | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadilla | Image: Laura Messersmith

Like all good recipes this one came about in a moment of desperation on a Sunday afternoon when a random set of leftovers and refrigerator bits and pieces became a brilliant lunch idea.

I became fairly obsessed with zucchini and yellow squashes this summer, which meant that there was often a roasted piece or two hanging about. Since I also had handful of flour tortillas and it occurred to me why do quesadillas have to contain Tex Mex flavors? Why shouldn’t a tortilla capture all sorts of other ingredients?

Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadilla | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadilla | Image: Laura Messersmith

From there I reasoned since zucchini is incredible paired with basil, and in a bit of a nod to salsa, I should add some of the pesto I made earlier in the week. I also shredded the remaining roast chicken, added a few crumbles of farmer’s cheese for salty tang and we were in business.

Obviously, or we wouldn’t be talking about it, the combination was delicious and thus the vaguely Italian quesadilla was born. Now it gets top billing, an intentional recipe, not an afterthought at all.

Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadillas (serves: 4)

Ingredients:
3 medium zucchini or summer squash
2 bone-in skin-on chicken breasts
4 flour tortillas
4 ounces farmer’s cheese or goat cheese
4 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 cup fresh basil leaves
olive oil
kosher salt
ground black pepper

Instructions:
Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. Roast skin-side up for 40-45 minutes or until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, remove the stem from the zucchini and slice lengthwise into 1/8” strips. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, brush both sides lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes on each side until tender and lightly browned. Remove to a plate.

While the zucchini roasts, make a quick pesto. Finely chop the basil leaves and place in a small bowl. Stir in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, a sprinkle of kosher salt and black pepper.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred into large pieces.

Place the tortillas on the baking sheet then divide the cheeses, chicken, zucchini, and dollops of pesto among them layering on one half of the tortilla. Fold the other half over the top to create a half moon shape. Bake for 5-6 minutes until the cheeses have melted. Slice in half into triangles and serve immediately!

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used a rimmed baking sheet, chef's knife, small cutting board, small bowl, pastry brush, cheese grater, flat spatula, and aluminum foil.

Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadilla | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadilla | Image: Laura Messersmith

Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadilla | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Summer Squash & Pesto Quesadilla | Image: Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines | Image: Laura Messersmith

I first tasted a version of this salad when I was living in Cambridge and working near Beacon Hill. Occasionally we’d walk over to a café on Charles Street called Panificio for lunch where their Chicken Tarragon Salad quickly became my favorite menu item. The addition of the grapes; the chopped fresh herbs made it special and elegant – a daring flavor combination to my newly awakening palate.

Since ten dollar salads on the regular weren’t really in the budget at the time I began making tarragon chicken salad for myself at home and even relied on it to impress Mike the first time I cooked for him. I worked all morning carefully slicing the grapes, washing the greens and trying to make everything perfect. We wedged ourselves in at the black and white table – an old counter top from my grandparent’s farmhouse transformed by a thrifty uncle – and began a tradition of connecting over a meal.

It’s been an awesome 8 years since that lunch. Our current kitchen is different, but still tiny, the black and white table is still with us, and I’m still making our favorite chicken salad. This time with a small refresh using basil in place of the tarragon. Why mess too much with a good thing?

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines | Image: Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines (serves 4)

Ingredients:
3 pounds (4 split) bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
Kosher salt
ground black pepper
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup seedless green grapes
4 slices multigrain bread
2 cups mixed baby greens or spinach

Instructions:
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and sprinkle both sides generously with salt and black pepper. Place the chicken skin side up on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40-50 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Set the roasted chicken aside to cool.

Meanwhile, finely chop the basil leaves and slice the grapes in half. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, carefully remove the meat from the bones and cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. Place the chicken in a medium mixing bowl; add the mayonnaise, basil and grapes. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Stir to evenly combine.

Toast the slices of bread and top with the greens and the basil chicken salad. Serve immediately.

Adapted and re-written from Ina Garten’s Chicken Salad Veronique inspired by Panificio's Tarragon Chicken Salad.

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Since day one. I used a rimmed baking sheet, medium mixing bowl, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, measuring spoons, and a rubber spatula.

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines | Image: Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil Chicken Salad Tartines | Image: Laura Messersmith

Sagaponack Corn Pudding

Sagaponack Corn Pudding  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Sagaponack Corn Pudding | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Tex Mex Homecoming”

The Set-up: Jeffrey’s on his way home for the weekend and Ina has a Tex Mex themed dinner planned.

The Menu: Sagaponack Corn Pudding, Guacamole, Tequila Lime Chicken, Frozen Key Lime Pie

0:47 – It’s Friday night and Jeffrey is on his way home, but Ina says that instead of regular roast chicken she’s doing a Tex Mex twist. He’s not going to know what hit him!

1:20 – First up Guacamole and naturally Ina has the most perfect avocados. I rarely find any in our store that are ripe but still un-dented. Yes, I’m jealous.

2:08 – We’re on the same page when it comes to making guacamole chunky and not overly pureed, but I’m not in favor of hot sauce in guacamole. Why ruin that cool green with spice?

3:32 – Off to the liquor store for tequila – Jose Gold for the Tequila Lime Chicken and the shop keeper recommends Sauza for margaritas. Noted.

4:03 – I’m an Ina Super Fan so I can tell this is an old episode because we’re in her house still and they haven’t quite nailed the tone yet. A few weird asides about jalapeno “giving my chicken attitude!”

4:17 – Just checked the date – it’s from 2003 and must be one of the first episodes ever!

5:34 – Okay, let’s focus here. It’s Frozen Key Lime Pie time, which so far involves the graham cracker crust. Pro Tip #1: Use a measuring cup to press the crust into the pan evenly.

9:41 – While the crust bakes, we’ve moved on to the Sagaponack Corn Pudding. Ina says she tries to balance out the flavors in a menu, so with something spicy she decided to serve the creamy corn pudding.

10:56 - FYI – this recipe is inspired by a similar version by Ina’s friend at Loaves & Fishes located in, you guessed it: Sagaponack!

11:13 – The corn pudding has chopped fresh basil in it, and I’m with Ina – basil + corn is one of my favorite combinations.

12:22 – The pudding is in the oven and now we get a shot of Mr. Garten speeding along toward home.

13:50 – Back to make the filling for the Frozen Key Lime Pie. It contains sweetened condensed milk and I don’t think I’ve ever cooked with it before, but apparently helps the custard to set up with no cooking.

14:09 – Aww, Jeffrey has arrived and now it’s margarita o’clock, plus some Guacamole. Woot!

19:31 – Now on to the main event: Tequila Lime Chicken. I’ve actually made this before and it is spicy for sure – chili powder, jalapeno and garlic!

20:18 – This is more of a logistical, tv show question, but how is Ina marinating this in about 15 minutes when she says that a few hours or overnight is the best?

21:42 – No time to fret because we’re on to the now-frozen key lime pie for the decorating and attractiveness step. Pro Tip #2: Decorate with an ingredient, in this case: lime wedges.

23:04 – Fun Fact for the Super Fans: there’s a shot of the back yard pre-barn and it’s kinda weird seeing it totally empty.

24:37 – It seems that the jokes about Jeffrey being inept with grills go waay back; here we are teasing him about calling the fire department. Perhaps it’s deserved because he manages to light the bag of charcoal on fire while replenishing the coals…

26:48 – Grilling has begun with Jeffrey acting as sous chef while Ina sets the table for dinner with a bowl of limes as décor.

27:55 – The corn pudding is out of the oven, and Jeffrey manages to stick the landing with the chicken, so dinner appears to be coming together quite nicely!

28:10 – Time to sit down to dinner – cheers are offered to their combined efforts and then key lime pie.

29:29 – Jeffrey’s compliments go way back too – he tells Ina that it’s the best key lime pie she’s made yet! Aww.

Final Thoughts:
I’m 100% with Ina on balancing the flavors and spice in a meal – all one note is so wearing after awhile.

Ina has been making key lime pie for 30+ years and I have yet to attempt it. Maybe summer 2016 will be my year?

Watching reeeeally old episodes is simultaneously weird and fun. The beginnings are there and it’s cool to see how things have evolved.

Sagaponack Corn Pudding   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Sagaponack Corn Pudding | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
Since fresh sweet corn is still available (just barely) I had to make Sagaponack Corn Pudding before autumn takes hold completely. I’ve only tried using a water bath to cook a pudding once before and I’d say it was only moderately successful – recipe mistake or user error, who’s to say? Thankfully this time had a much better outcome.

Corn – This would not be the time to use frozen or canned. For me, the fresh crunch of sweet corn cut from the cob is not something I’m interested in substituting. Make this now, while you still can!

Prep – Cutting the corn kernels directly into a high-sided bowl is so much neater and easier to contain them that way. Just stand the ear end-up in the bowl and cut vertically down each side. The bowl catches 90% and your kitchen doesn’t have little bits all over.

Individual Portions – Rather than make one large pudding, I wanted to make single servings. I followed the directions exactly up to the point of putting the mixture into the baking dish and used 7 oz oven safe ramekins instead. A half-size version of the recipe just filled 6 ramekins and the baking time was exactly the same – 40-45 minutes in a water bath.

Water Bath – I’d recommend testing your baking dish/water bath pan to make sure the dish will fit. Particularly if you’re filling ramekins, I’d recommend portioning them and getting them arranged the way you want in the pan before filling the remaining space with hot water. I boiled it in a tea kettle since my tap water isn’t the hottest.

Make Ahead – If oven space is limited you can make the corn pudding ahead of time and keep it warm for about an hour just by leaving the ramekins in the water bath and setting the entire contraption aside with foil over it. The individual portions also warm up beautifully in the microwave with a damp paper towel over the top, so by all means make a few extra…

Sagaponack Corn Pudding   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Sagaponack Corn Pudding | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Mostly… To prep I used a large sauté pan, medium mixing bowl, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, box grater, a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, a whisk and a rubber spatula. To cook, you’ll need either a large oven-safe casserole dish or approximately 10 ramekins and a pan large enough (I used a 9x13 pan) to contain the baking dish(es).

The Verdict:
Oh, good lord Sagaponack Corn Pudding is. so. good. The flavors are so beautifully complimentary and the results are deliciously creamy hovering somewhere in the neighborhood of mac and cheese, but with the lightness of a vegetable gratin. I made this recipe as a side with Ina’s Barbecue Chicken and while the chicken was delicious, I’m pretty sure the corn pudding stole the show. I personally prefer the individual portions; if for no other reason than that it’s easier to defend your territory from marauding eaters, made in a larger dish I’m pretty sure there will be a spirited discussion over who get the last spoonful!

Sagaponack Corn Pudding   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Sagaponack Corn Pudding | Image: Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Summer eating presents some challenges – primarily, the conundrum is I’m still hungry all the time, but the foods that are appealing when the weather is hot don’t really fill me up. I’d like to live on popsicles, watermelon, and iced coffee but nutritionally it’s not a sound plan. What I really need is something fresh and light with enough substance to make it worth eating, and of course delicious enough to make it work preparing. To my way of thinking; time in the kitchen when the weather is beautiful better be well spent!

I’ve eaten just about every permutation of this salad, as the credits below demonstrate, and I love all of them but this one has just the right amount of everything. Rich, nutty quinoa and grape tomatoes are tossed with a lime vinaigrette and pulled back from the brink of too acidic by mild, sweet corn and the mellow basil. A symphony of summery flavors.

It’s easy to make ahead, can be tossed with a few leafy greens, or further dinner-ized with some grilled chicken (perhaps Tequila Citrus? - more on that Wednesday), which makes it worthy of your Sunday afternoon efforts and makes Monday night dinner a snap.

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad (serves: 4-6)

Ingredients:
1 cup dried quinoa
4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/3 cup (3-4 limes) fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper

Instructions:
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the ears of corn for 3 minutes to remove the starchy texture. Drain and immerse the corn in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the color. When the corn is cool, use a chef’s knife to cut the kernels off the cob. Place the kernels in a large bowl and set aside to continue cooling.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the quinoa and 1 teaspoon of salt, lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, until the grains are tender and open – they’ll look like they have little curly tails. While the quinoa cooks, juice the limes and combine with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper. When the quinoa is done, drain in a fine sieve, place in a bowl and immediately add the lime dressing. Toss to coat well and place the bowl in the refrigerator to cool.

Slice the grape tomatoes in half length-wise, julienne the basil leaves, and slice the red onion in very thin quarter moons. Add the vegetables and the reserved corn kernels to the dressed quinoa and fold together. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lime juice, if needed. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate and serve cold.

Inspired by and adapted from Bon Appétit Charred Corn Salad with Basil and Tomatoes and Ina Garten’s Quinoa Tabbouleh with Feta and Corn and Avocado Salad.

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes and no. This does take a few more items than I usually like to use, but the results are delicious, so… forgive me? I used a large pot (for the corn), a medium pot (for the quinoa) - note if you're organized the one large pot could suffice with a wash in between - two medium mixing bowls, a medium sieve, liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, medium cutting board, chef’s knife, and large mixing spoon. Tongs are also super helpful for removing the corn from the boiling water.

The Verdict:
If it’s possible to fall in love with a salad, then I’ve fallen in love with this one. Something about the balance of flavors has me craving the bite of citrus, cool tomatoes, and rich quinoa. I served it along side Tequila Citrus Chicken, but it could easily be the main event. Be forewarned: it’s easy to stuff yourself with it’s deliciousness and not even realize it until you need to be rolled away from the table.

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Basil, Corn & Quinoa Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith