Asparagus and Refried Cannellini Bean Quesadillas

Asparagus and Refried Cannellini Bean Quesadillas
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The first time I had asparagus, I remember my aunt carefully microwaving it with a little water. She then served us the long skinny stalks with plenty of lemon butter for dipping. Since then, I haven’t had asparagus in vastly different ways. It’s usually briefly cooked and minimally flavored, mostly with lemon, butter or maybe mayonnaise.

That has created a mental block in my head where I’m never quite sure whether asparagus can be served in different ways. A couple weeks ago, I branched out by making a spring asparagus risotto where again, butter and lemon featured prominently. While it was tasty, pureeing the asparagus lost my favorite quality, its succulence so it’s not yet a sharable recipe. The recipe today keeps the texture of asparagus.

As the days get warmer, I feel the fleetingness of spring so I am currently going out of my way to cook with spring vegetables. I didn’t want to just serve asparagus as a side so I set out to explore ways to integrate asparagus into a regular feeling meal. After finding a container of dried cannellini beans, I decided to riff on the humble quesadilla. It turned out surprisingly well. It convinced me to experiment more with how I prep, season and cook asparagus. While this asparagus quesadilla is not at all authentic, I happen to find its combination of Mexican, Italian and straight up American elements to be the perfect variant for a spring weeknight meal so I hope you try it.

Preparation notes

For the refried cannellini beans, I adapted the method I use for refried pinto beans. I pressure cook the beans with some onion and herbs (a bay leaf in this case). After cooking the beans, I chop up the onions and fry them in oil as my flavor base along with thyme. I also added some diced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. If this doesn’t appeal to you, you can skip it or swap it out for some fresh green chili. You can also use canned cannellini beans (or even canned refried beans) to save time.

When preparing the asparagus, I wanted a shape that felt less finger-food-like and would not add weird humps to the quesadilla. After removing the woody bottoms of the asparagus stalks, I cut them along the bias. While preparation took longer, the thinness of the cut pieces made it easy to quickly saute them with a little spice.

Candidly, these bias cut pieces of asparagus did not work well in quesadillas. They felt too large given how tender-crisp they were. The toddler masterfully picked out the asparagus pieces from his quesadilla bites and pushed them into my mouth to eat. For lunch the next day, I chopped the sauteed asparagus into smaller pieces and we all liked it better. However, I still think the bias cut is a good shape for sauteing the pieces evenly so I’d suggest you still do it.

Make the homemade ranch dressing to accompany these quesadiIlas. Unlike what you get from a bottle, this dressing is luxurious and elegant. It is packed with fresh herbs as well as tangy creamy buttermilk and creme fraiche. It adds to the spring spirit of this quesadilla. It would also be lovely as a contrast to a bolder, spicier quesadilla filling. If you have leftover dressing (which you will), you can dunk carrot sticks and bell pepper strips into it.

Asparagus and Refried Cannellini Bean Quesadillas

Recipe by Preeyanka


Prep time


Cooking time



This is a springy quesadilla variant that celebrates asparagus and fresh spring herbs. You can also make refried beans from canned cannellini beans or use a can of refried beans. If you can, make the homemade ranch dressing. Alternately, serve this quesadilla with a salsa or hot sauce (I like Yellow Bird). Store-bought ranch is not a reasonable substitute for a proper homemade ranch dressing.


  • Refried Cannellini Beans from Dried Beans
  • 1 cup dried cannellini beans

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1/3 onion wedge – skin, top and bottom removed

  • 2 Tbs olive oil

  • 3 sprigs thyme

  • 1 clove garlic finely minced

  • Salt to taste (I start with 1/2 tsp salt and keep adding more until I’m happy)

  • 1 chipotle pepper preserved in adobo sauce, finely chopped (optional)

  • For the Quesadillas
  • 1 Tbs olive oil

  • 3 cups bias cut asparagus (details below)

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 1/4 tsp cumin

  • Butter for greasing pan

  • 8 soft-taco sized flour tortillas

  • 1.5 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese

  • Homemade ranch dressing for serving


  • Refried Cannellini Beans from Dried Beans
  • Rinse the cannellini beans and soak them in plenty of water for 4 hrs.
  • Drain the cannellini beans and add them to instant pot along with the onion wedge, bay leaf and 3 cups of water.
  • Cook the cannellini beans at high pressure for 25 minutes. Once it has finished cooking at pressure, let the instant pot naturally release. At the very least, wait at least 20 min before opening the steam valve. Confirm that the beans are soft enough and if not, cook the beans for a little longer.
  • Pat away excess water from the pressure-cooked onion wedge and chop finely. Reserve 1 cup of broth and then discard the remaining broth and bay leaf.
  • In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and fry for 5-7 minutes, lowering temperature if it spatters too much and stirring regularly. Add the garlic, thyme and chipotle if using and stir for 30 seconds.
  • Add drained cooked cannellini beans and mash the beans in the pan. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, adding salt to taste and additional bean broth if the beans look too dry.
  • Assemble the Quesadillas
  • To prepare bias-cut asparagus, remove the tough bottom of your asparagus. I usually remove 1-in. On the cutting board, lay an asparagus so the long edge is horizontal (e.g. goes from 9 to 3 if you can imagine an analog clock). Hold your knife so that it it is at a slight angle to the 1-inch (e.g. going from 8:45 to 2:45 if you visualize an analog clock) and cut pieces from the asparagus going from the bottom and stopping before you hit the heads. You are ultimately trying to cut thin and long-ish pieces of asparagus.
  • Add 1 Tbs of oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Add asparagus, cumin and salt and cook for 3 min, regularly stirring so spices don’t burn. Remove from heat and chop (not too finely).
  • For each quesadilla, take a flour tortilla and smear a layer of refried beans (more if you prefer) on half the tortilla. Make sure to warm your beans if you took them out of the fridge. Add a layer of chopped asparagus and then a layer of cheese. I usually find myself using ~2-3 Tbs of each but it comes down to your preferences. Fold the other half of the tortilla over to make a half circle. You can also make larger quesadillas by using one tortilla for the bottom and another for the top.
  • Over medium heat, add a thin layer of butter in a frying pan large enough to hold the quesadilla. Add the assembled quesadilla to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until the tortilla is crisp and there are reddish brown spots and inside the cheese is gooey. Repeat for each quesadilla.
  • Cut quesadillas into wedges and serve immediately with homemade ranch dressing or a salsa of your choice.