I relish cooking simple foods in the summertime. It’s hot, and no one wants to really use the oven or stove excessively, which just cranks up the heat in the kitchen, and therefore, cranks up our moods, too!
Thankfully, the best foods in the summertime, when eaten at the peak of freshness, hardly need much effort from us. They definitely need some washing (I’ve found caterpillars in fresh fennel!). Pairing with seasonally adjacent foods helps, and maybe a little bit of heat to coax out their sugars. Fresh herbs never hurt, either.
This quesadilla with sweet corn, zucchini, goat cheese, and basil brings the best of summer together with maximum flavor and and minimal effort.
- Want to make your own tortillas? Try this recipe: Homemade Flour Tortillas
What Kind of Corn to Use?
In a perfect world, you would make these quesadillas with fresh corn right off the cob, which honest to goodness doesn’t even need to be cooked to be eaten—it’s usually just that sweet.
You'll need to remove the kernels from the cob for this recipe, though. All you need to do is just hold the ear upright and slice down the length of the cob to remove the kernels. (Here's a step by step guide that Elise wrote.) Toss them in a hot pan, warm them up, and you’ve got a roasty-toasty approach to summertime sweet corn.
If you don't have corn on the cob, you can use frozen or canned corn really easily—you just want to make sure the kernels aren't wet. They need to be fairly dry when they hit the pan, because you’re kind of pan roasting them. Take a couple of paper towels to the corn and blot the kernels dry before tossing them in the pan.
A Word About Zucchini Prep
I once walked around the farmers market with a chef friend of mine and saw the way he was selecting summer squash and zucchini: the smaller, the better. As soon I saw it, the lightbulbs went off!
They were about an inch or so in diameter, and they were short, perhaps no longer than 10 inches. They're just so much easier to work with, and they're less watery and more flavorful when they're smaller. Because I'm using these small zucchini, I slice them in half lengthwise, and then in half again—essentially, quarters—and they are no bigger than a 1/2-inch at their widest. This size plays well with the sweet corn.
However, I know how zucchini like to roll in the summer. If you've got a garden and you can't keep up, they get big, and they get that way fast. So if you have baseball-bat sized zucchini on your hands and you've already done things like make zucchini cake or bread, here's what I'd do: Cut the zucchini lengthwise into long strip and then dice them as small as possible. This way they fit nicely into the pan with the corn, and they're not so large that they'll fall out of the quesadilla.
What Herbs to Use?
I love fresh basil with corn and scallions and goat cheese. Corn and basil are typically in season at the same time, and the sweetness of the corn just works against the sharp, sweet, and slightly minty taste you get from basil.
You could also substitute cilantro, but in the dead heat of summer where I live in Pennsylvania, cilantro does nothing but bolt, which makes the cilantro bitter.
If you were to make this dish in the winter and didn’t want to use basil, however, you could totally go for cilantro. There’s nothing wrong with that choice.
Why Use Goat Cheese?
There’s something about warm weather that makes me pull out the goat cheese. It’s such a great counterpart to the natural sweetness of fresh veggies in the summertime. And it’s flavorful without being too heavy, as far as cheeses go. A little bit goes a long way.
The key, too, is to soften it ahead of time so that it spreads more easily when it's time to go onto the tortilla. I typically take it out of the refrigerator, and I find that if the kitchen's warm, the goat cheese is about ready to roll by the time I've got the corn off the cob and the veggies chopped.
But just as goat cheese isn't your typical cheese, this isn't your typical quesadilla—you're not going to get an end result with ooey-gooey cheese. If you're into that, we've got plenty of other quesadillas to choose from!
Love Quesadillas? Here Are More to Try!
Sweet Corn and Goat Cheese Quesadillas
If you are using fresh corn on the cob, here's how to prep it. Shuck the corn, and give the cob a quick rinse to remove any stray bits of silk. Then hold the ear of corn upright, and cut the corn off the cob from top to bottom. Rotate the cob until all the corn is removed, and repeat for the remaining ears.
If using frozen or canned corn, rinse and pat it dry with a paper towel before using.
- 3 cups corn kernels, fresh, frozen, or canned
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups zucchini, diced no more than 1/2-inch thick
- 3 scallions, chopped, green parts included
- 4 ounces goat cheese, slightly softened
- 1/2 cup large basil leaves, packed loosely
- 4 8-inch flour tortillas (or 6 to 8 6-inch corn tortillas)
Brown the corn:
Cook the corn over medium heat in dry pan until it starts to brown and smell a bit like popcorn—this should take about 5 to 7 minutes. Keep a close eye on it; you don’t want it to burn.
Transfer to a small bowl and toss with butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper to combine.
Cook the zucchini:
Still on medium heat, add olive oil to the pan, along with the zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the zucchini softens a little bit.
Add the chopped scallions and cook for another minute or two, until they soften, too. Turn off the heat and add the corn back into the pan. Stir to combine.
Assemble and cook the quesadilla:
Heat a grill pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add a teaspoon or so of olive oil and add the tortilla once the oil starts to shimmer a bit. (Alternately, you can remove the veggies to a bowl and then cook the quesadillas in the same skillet.)
Spread about a tablespoon or two of softened goat cheese on half of the tortilla. Add the zucchini, corn, and scallion mix evenly on top of the goat cheese, and top with a few basil leaves. Fold the tortilla over. Cook for a couple of minutes and then, using a spatula, gently flip it to the other side.
Slice into thirds and serve. Repeat the process with the remaining tortillas. Quesadillas are best eaten immediately, while hot. Serve with fresh pico de gallo, chopped avocado, or other accompaniments of your choice.