feasting at home: Caprese Grilled Cheese with Arugula Pesto

April 17, 2013

Caprese Grilled Cheese with Arugula Pesto

Every now and then, do you ever get a hankering for a grilled cheese sandwich? After spending three weeks in Asia without a bite of cheese and very little bread, it was one of the first things I wanted to eat when we got back. It also happens to be National Grilled Cheese month.

This grilled cheese sandwich starts with good bread. A rustic sourdough boule made with whole wheat  and rye flour is thickly sliced and layered with fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and a flavorful Arugula Pesto. Lightly browned in a skillet and placed in a hot oven, it comes out golden, toasty and melty. The Arugula Pesto recipe is one that I use repeatedly for catering because of its flavor and versatility. It contains a little flavor enhancing secret.

It occurs to me that I may be confusing to some of you with my sporadic not-so-healthy recipes thrown in every once in a while. But truthfully, this is how we do it around here. We eat pretty healthfully most of the time. Often our meals are vegan. Sometimes gluten free, and always full of nutritious, seasonal produce. But occasionally, we enjoy a good pizza, or a big bowl of ice cream. Or triple cream brie.

I decided a while back, after going through numerous spells of being vegan, or cutting out all sugar, or eliminating gluten, or juice fasting, that I was tired of labels and rules.  Whenever I would deprive myself of something... I would end up wanting it even more. In general we try to eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible, and so when we feel like having something decadent, it's totally fine, in moderation. This way there is no guilt, and I can actually enjoy it. I know this doesn't work for everyone, but this is what we do.  I really like the idea of Mark Bittman's eating plan, "vegan before dinnertime".

This Arugula Pesto recipe is deliberately a little salty and a little lemony. This is because I often use it to flavor other things as well. When catering, I will mix it with mayo or Veganaise for a flavorful sandwich spread, or toss it with pasta, for a quick meal, use it as a condiment for grilled fish or tofu.....or even season soup with it. The pesto itself is actually vegan, which makes it very versatile. Because fresh Mozzarella is contains little or no salt, I love the addition of this pesto. The secret ingredient in the recipe is smoked almonds. Using smoked almonds instead of pine nuts, gives this an deep and earthy quality. 

Arugula on its own can have a bitter quality.  In this pesto, blend it with fresh basil or flat leaf parsley.

Begin layering your sandwich.

Lightly brown both sides in a heavy bottom skillet, using a combination of butter and olive oil, then finish in a 375F oven to get it perfectly melty and toasty without having the bread get too dark.

Add fresh arugula after it comes out of the oven.

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 Caprese Grilled Cheese with Arugula Pesto

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Caprese Grilled Cheese with Arugula Pesto
A toasty mellty grilled cheese sandwich with fresh mozzarella, tomato and arugula pesto.

Good sourdough bread or rustic bread
fresh mozzarella, sliced
sliced tomatoes
Arugula pesto ( see below)
Butter and olive oil for the pan

Preheat oven to 375F
Layer fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto between two slices of bread. Heat 1 T butter and 1 T olive oil in a heavy bottom oven proof skillet. Lightly brown each side place in the hot oven. Bake until cheese is melty, about 10 minutes.

Arugula Pesto ( makes one cup)
2 large garlic cloves
1/4 C smoked Almonds ( or roasted almonds)
1 Cup packed Basil leaves( or flat leaf parsley)
2 Cups packed Arugula
1/3 C olive oil, plus 1 T
1/8 C fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt (if your almonds are salted, use less)
cracked pepper

Place first 4 ingredients in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until combined, scraping down sides as necessary. This recipe is intentionally a little salty and a little lemony, if eaten on its own. It's meant to flavor the sandwich, or could be tossed with pasta, or even mixed with a little mayo (or veganaise) for a flavorful sandwich spread.