Caprese Grilled Cheese with Arugula Pesto

Every now and then, I get a hankering for a really good 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
by April-13-2013
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.


  1. says

    I feel the need to go to the store and make this for my lunch today. Looks amazing! I agree with you about not depriving yourself and moderation. I’ve changed my lifestyle too and live by the vegan before dinner motto. I’ve lost weight, gained energy and am feeling pretty awesome these days. Cheers!

  2. says

    This is the most delicious looking thing I’ve ever seen! You are combining two of my most favourite things. Caprese salad and sandwiches lol. Just found your site and I’m loving it by the way.

  3. Roisin says

    This was a seriously delicious sandwich, thanks for the inspiration! Here in Dublin we’re lucky enough to have the most amazing Irish-made buffalo mozzarella (a local farmer imported the herd from Italy a couple of years ago and it’s been a rip-roaring success). Your recipe idea was just what I needed to make the most of good local ingredients !

  4. Anonymous says

    Just made this (I cheated and used store-bought pesto instead of making the arugula), and my boyfriend (a picky eater) loved it! I also buttered the outside of the bread and grilled it on my George Foreman. Thanks for the recipe!

  5. Anonymous says

    This has got to be one of the most delicious looking meals I’ve seen in a long time – and this is coming from a personal trainer and Pilates instructor! I can’t wait to share this recipe with my clients. Everything in moderation! :)

  6. Susan says

    Made this for dinner tonight. All I can say is DELICIOUS! My husband and I absolutely loved the sandwich. Thank you for sharing the recipe! :)

  7. says

    I came across your recipe on the buzz feed, i am recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and always looking for a healthier way to eat…this sandwich has become a stable in my new diet, I make it 2 to 3 times a week to replace the nasty fast food i tend to eat on the go…Thank you for the inspiration I have started to try different sandwich ideas because of this keep doing these amazing recipes and inspiring us all to do better with how we eat…

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