The Chef: Fermín Nuñez
His Restaurant Suerte in Austin, Texas
What He’s Known For Smart, elevated takes on Mexican cooking. Perfecting the art of the tortilla.
GROWING UP IN northern Mexico and Texas, then working in some of Austin’s top restaurants, Fermín Nuñez developed a highly personal take on Mexican cuisine. “I love the foundation of Mexican cooking. Reinventing the wheel is harder than just cooking with heart and letting it flow,” he said.
These zucchini quesadillas, gooey with mild Oaxaca cheese and punched up with pickled peppers, epitomize the sort of cooking—equally comforting and surprising—that the chef now dishes out at Suerte, in Austin. Pistachios bring “more flavor, sweetness and a creamy mouthfeel,” he said, to a pumpkin-seed salsa.
Mr. Nuñez based these quesadillas on a classic Mexican recipe often made with squash blossoms, but he finds the diced zucchini more succulent and flavorful. An easy tweak, but significant. “When something simple is done right, it’s elevated in so many ways,” said Mr. Nuñez. “It’s more than the sum of its parts.”
TOTAL TIME: 25 minutes SERVES: 4
1 cup distilled white vinegar
½ tablespoon sugar
½ cup thinly sliced banana peppers
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup thinly sliced onions
1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
¼ cup pistachios
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup chopped cilantro
2 small green tomatoes
Juice of ½ lime
3 cups diced zucchini
4 large corn tortillas
2 cups shredded Oaxaca cheese or mozzarella
1. In a small pot over medium heat, combine vinegar, sugar, a pinch of salt and peppers. Bring to a boil, and once peppers soften, after about 3 minutes, remove from heat. Let peppers cool, then drain.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add onions and jalapeños and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add pistachios and pumpkin seeds. Cook, stirring, until seeds and nuts toast but do not burn, about 3 minutes. Transfer ingredients to a blender with cilantro and tomatoes. Purée until smooth. Salsa should be thick but still loose. Season with salt and lime juice to taste.
3. Meanwhile, set a large skillet over high heat. Dry-sauté zucchini until black in spots and cooked through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt.
4. Wipe pan clean, then set over medium heat. Add half the remaining oil. Once hot, arrange half the tortillas in pan. Spoon on half the cheese, zucchini and pickled peppers, distributing filling over half of each tortilla. Cook until cheese begins to melt, about 1 minute, then fold tortilla over filling. Press down on each folded tortilla and flip. Cook until tortillas crisp further and cheese melts, about 1 minute more. Transfer quesadillas to a plate and repeat with remaining tortillas and filling, adding oil if pan looks dry. Serve quesadillas hot with salsa on the side.