In honor of Father’s Day on June 20, Lynne Christy Anderson shares a recipe for Salvadoran quesadilla, from her book Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens, and shares memories of cooking with her father.

Far too often, men are left out of conversations about cooking and eating. Father’s Day is approaching and why not spend time together in the kitchen?

I remember sometimes cooking with my father: when I was in high school it was pizza on Friday nights. He’d pick up the dough at the local bakery on his way home from work and we’d make a tomato sauce, grate mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and chop pepperoni and green peppers. He’d occasionally sneak in a few slices of mushroom when my brother, sister and I weren’t looking, something none of us have yet to acquire a taste for.

It was our end-of-the-week routine, the three of us kids around the table with our rolling pins, becoming more and more covered in flour as we worked the dough into, not circles, but rectangles to fit the cookie sheets we’d bake the pizza on. And there would be my father in the kitchen, stirring the sauce, helping us to spread oil over the dough, rotating pans in and out of his tiny oven in the apartment he rented after he and my mother split up. We loved those Friday nights with our dad—dinner on the couch in front of the Rockford Files (the one night we didn’t have to sit at the table). We also loved our pizza, and in the early eighties in our suburban New England town, my friends seemed almost awestruck that you could even make pizza at home.

“Is your father Italian?” they’d ask. With a name like Justus Doane Anderson, most definitely not. Still, they’d wonder how he learned to make pizza.

I’ve spent time cooking with immigrant families who had extensive culinary traditions to draw on—a father named José from El Salvador who bakes the same quesadilla with his daughter that he once made with his mother and grandmother when he was a boy, or Liz, from Brazil, who cooks the same peixada, a fish stew her father and grandmother first taught her to make, only today she does it with her son here in America.

You don’t, however, have to have extensive family recipes to draw on to begin cooking with your own children and grandchildren. After all, my father’s mother never really liked to cook. She most certainly never made pizza.
It could be anything: macaroni and cheese, homemade ice cream, even pancakes for breakfast. My husband has taken to rolling pasta with our kids because we have a growing collection of pasta machines. (I keep coming across them at yard sales, in disbelief that people would ever think to get rid of them.) He’ll clamp two or three to our kitchen table and the rolling begins with the three of them cranking by hand long strands of golden fettuccini, linguini, or sometimes, sheets for lasagna, and then dusting everything lightly with flour before stacking them together for me to boil.

Most of us will have a special meal for Father’s Day. Why not invite Dad into the kitchen to lead the cooking?

Jose’s Mother’s Salvadoran Quesadilla
(From: Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens)

Jose makes this with his daughter, Gabriela, on Saturday mornings, when he has a few hours off from work. Not to be confused with the Mexican dish of the same name, Salvadoran quesadilla is a sweet, rich cake made with a pinch of parmesan cheese. It’s delicious with hot cocoa or coffee as a morning or early afternoon snack.

1 cup heavy cream
½ cup ricotta cheese
1 large egg
¼ cup cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan cheese
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups harina de arroz (rice flour)*
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Adjust the oven rack to center and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix the heavy cream, ricotta, egg, cream cheese, and parmesan in a large bowl until smooth. Add the sugar and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix the rice flour, salt, and baking soda. Add this to the cream mixture and mix just until the ingredients are incorporated. Spread it into a lightly greased 9-inch cake pan and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake until the cake springs back when touched in the center, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Can be served slightly warm or at room temperature.

*Found in the ethnic cooking sections of large supermarkets and in markets specializing in Caribbean and Latino products. All purpose flour can be substituted.

Lynne Christy Anderson is the author of Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens.