Winter and early spring mark Dungeness crab season in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. We wait all year for opening day and then head in droves to the stores to buy crab fresh from the sea. It is incredibly sweet, tender and delectable, definitely worth the wait!
Dungeness crab populations go through cyclical fluctuations based on ocean currents, water temperature, and food availability. Some years, depending on the availability and size of crabs, the opening of the season will be held back, helping to protect from over-fishing. This year was a shorter season than most, but I am grateful because with these precautions in place, we are assured future harvests. For the latest information on the best and most sustainable seafood choices, keep an eye on seafood recommendations from Seafood Watch. You can download a buyer’s guide here.
Our local San Francisco favorite crab dish is the Crab Louie salad. It varies by restaurant, but is usually a bed of lettuce topped with a healthy serving of fresh Dungeness crabmeat topped with a Thousand Island-style dressing. In addition, the salad can include avocado slices, hard-boiled eggs, croutons, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. While this is the quintessential way to enjoy fresh crab, I wanted something a little different this week.
I wanted to create a dinner that would not require a huge amount of fresh crab but would be filling enough for an entrée. That would require either a lot of other ingredients or enough richness to be satisfying. I went more toward the second option, combining the crab with a flavorful cheesy spread and used it to fill griddled tortillas to create a fabulous new quesadilla!
One of the challenges with eating a gluten-free diet is finding ways to enclose foods. Typical wraps (pita bread, sandwich bread, flour tortillas, wonton wrappers, etc.) are made with wheat and are not an option for me. There are some good gluten-free corn tortillas and those are one of my go-to options when making lunches and dinners.
I like the combination of dill and seafood, so I thought it would be interesting to try some cheese with dill in the dish. Muenster is a softer cheese and what I was hoping to find, but the only one available was Havarti. It is a little harsh when tasted on its own, but when combined with the mascarpone and other seasonings, it provided a lovely counterpoint to the crab.
I wanted just a hint of heat in the cheese filling, so I only added about 10 to 15 drops of Sriracha, but if you like a spicier dish, add as much hot sauce as you like. You can also pass a bottle of Sriracha, Tabasco or your favorite hot sauce at the table so your guests can add more if they want it.
I think this would also be great with smoked salmon, other cooked fresh fish, shrimp or with sauteed vegetables in place of the crab. Once again, a recipe is just a road map and you are welcome to take detours along the way!
Enjoy these delectable and decadent quesadillas – the sexiest Mexican dish you can imagine!
Make sure that the corn tortillas you use do not have any wheat added – most do!
- 1 tsp organic olive oil
- 2 tbsp very finely minced red bell pepper
- 1 shallot, peeled and minced
- 1 cup baby spinach leaves, well rinsed and patted dry, chopped
- 1/3 cup mascarpone, softened to room temperature
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Sriracha or other hot pepper sauce, or to taste
- 2 tbsp dry white wine or dry vermouth
- 1/4 cup shredded Dill Havarti or Muenster cheese, or Monterey Jack
- 1 tsp very finely grated lemon zest
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas (gluten-free if needed)
- 8 oz fresh crabmeat, picked through for pieces of shell, rinsed and drained (canned crabmeat is OK if fresh is not available) - or more if you can afford it
- Chopped fresh dill, if desired
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When rippling, add the bell peppers. Cook, stirring often, until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the shallots and continue cooking for another minute. Do not let shallots get too brown or they will get bitter. Remove pan from the heat and add the spinach, tossing to lightly wilt the leaves. Transfer the vegetables to a plate to cool.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the mascarpone, Sriracha and Vermouth until completely smooth. Add a little salt and pepper (and more Sriracha) to taste. Fold in the Muenster, cooled shallots and bell peppers, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir until everything is blended together, smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. This filling can be made up to a day in advance. Cover and store in the refrigerator. Return to room temperature before continuing.
- Lay out 4 of the corn tortillas on a clean work surface. Top each one with a fairly thick schmear of the cheese mixture. Sprinkle the crabmeat evenly over the tops. You can add more crab if your budget allows. Sprinkle with chopped fresh dill if you want. Spread a thin layer of the remaining cheese mixture on each of the remaining tortillas then place schmear-side down on top of the cheese/crab mixture and press down lightly.
- Preheat a griddle over medium heat. Place the filled tortillas on the hot griddle and cook until the tortilla is crisp and the filling is softening. Then slip a spatula under each quesadilla and holding the top tortilla in place with your fingers, quickly flip to cook the other side. When the second side is crispy and the cheese is melted, transfer the quesadillas to a clean work surface. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut each quesadilla into quarters or sixths.
- Place 2 or 3 wedges on each plate, keeping the remaining quesadilla wedges warm in a low oven on a rack set on a baking sheet until ready to serve. Add lemon wedges and dill if desired; serve hot.
- Yield: 2 to 4 servings (1/2 to 1 quesadilla for appetizer portion; 2 for entrée)
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