Chicken and pesto quesadillas? You’d probably raise your eyebrow a little higher when I tell you that those quesadillas in the photo had lots of kesong puti (Filipino native white cheese) inside them. Yes, seriously. Like I always say, never be afraid to experiment and use unorthodox combination of ingredients.
The filling consists of thin strips of chicken, bell peppers and chilies cooked in olive oil with garlic, onion and pepper. When everything is cooked through, the pesto is added and everything is tossed together to coat every piece of chicken and vegetable with pesto.
Next comes the assembly. The chicken filling is spooned on one half of the tortilla and the cheeses are arranged on top. The process is repeated until all the tortillas are filled or until there is no more chicken filling.
Traditionally, quesadillas are cooked in a comal, a flat griddle usually made of cast iron. But cooking quesadillas one or two at a time can take forever. And as each quesadilla cooks, it has to be served immediately. That means we don’t get to eat all at the same time.
So, I assemble the tortillas, arrange them side by side on a baking tray and put them in a preheated oven. They get cooked all at the same time and we all get to sit down and enjoy hot quesadillas.
- 12 six-inch flour tortillas
- 250 grams chicken fillets (I used thighs but breast meat is okay too), cut into thin strips
- 3 tablespoons virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons pesto
- 2 bell peppers red or green or a combination, veins and seeds removed then finely diced
- 1 finger chili finely sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic grated
- 1 onion finely sliced
- 12 slices cheddar cheese
- 12 slices kesong puti (or substitute cottage cheese) about 250 grams total
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the chicken strips and cook until no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and onion and cook for about two minutes, stirring often.
Add the bells peppers and the chili. Cook for a few minutes or just until the vegetables start to turn soft.
Grind more black pepper over the mixture and continue cooking for a few more minutes or until the mixture is almost dry. Turn off the heat.
Add the pesto and stir well. At this point, the mixture will be very fragrant and you really get tempted to just forget about the tortillas and eat the filling by itself. DON’T — patience is a virtue in this case.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
While the chicken filling cools, heat the tortillas in a frying pan. Flip them over to light brown both sides. You’ll know they’re okay when brown spots appear on the surface.
You can probably skip this step altogether since you’ll be cooking the tortillas after the fillings are in place but I really like them crisp so I bother heating them one by one.
Lay a tortilla flat and place about two tablespoonfuls of the chicken filling on one side. Don’t be tempted to put in too much because the filling will fall out when you fold the tortilla later.
Top the chicken filling with the cheeses. And remember that the combination of cheddar and native white cheese was simply my personal preference. Feel free to use other kinds of cheeses, you might come up with something even more delicious that what I concocted.
Lift the empty half of the tortilla over, pressing firmly to make sure the thing doesn’t open while baking.
Traditionally, quesadillas are cooked in a skillet one by one and a spatula is pressed over the quesadilla to keep it flat. But I do not have the time and the patience for that so I simply arranged them on a baking sheet and cooked them in a very hot oven, about 200C, for about three minutes — just long enough to reheat everything and for the cheeses to melt.
Cool the quesadillas for about 5 minutes before cutting them. Otherwise, the cheeses will ooze out. Into how many portions the quesadilla should be cut is entirely up to you. Since I used small tortillas, I figured cutting each quesadilla into two was just right. For larger tortillas, you can cut each chicken and pesto quesadilla into three to four portions.