Meatless Monday: Grilled Cheese With Basil-Arugula Pesto


This grown-up grilled cheese features the classic flavors of a caprese salad. Underneath rich, melted mozzarella lies slices of ripe tomato and a layer of homemade pesto. I put a little spin on the basil pesto by incorporating spicy arugula, and used pecans instead of pine nuts to make it a more affordable spread. This sandwich is a perfectly satisfying lunch or quick dinner. Serve with a lightly dressed arugula salad and a glass of Italian wine.

Basil-Arugula Pesto (yields enough pesto for four sandwiches):
1 cup packed arugula leaves, stems removed
1 cup packed basil leaves
1/2 cup shelled pecans
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Cracked black pepper, to taste

Grilled cheese (for 1 sandwich):
2 slices whole wheat levain or sourdough bread
3 to 4 ounces of a fresh mozzarella ball, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1/2 ripe heirloom tomato or 1 to 2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

Make the pesto: In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the pecans, stirring frequently, until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, combine the arugula, basil, Parmesan, garlic, salt and pecans. While the food processor is running, drizzle in the olive oil. The pesto should be a spreadable consistency; if it seems dry, blend in a couple tablespoons more olive oil. Stir in the lemon juice and season with black pepper and salt to taste (you want the pesto to taste a little salty).

Construct the sandwiches: First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread one piece of bread with a generous layer of pesto. Top with sliced tomatoes and cover with mozzarella slices. Top with the remaining slice of bread.

Grill the sandwiches: Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Once the skillet is hot enough that a drop of water sizzles on contact, swirl a pat of butter in the skillet and place the sandwich in the skillet. Cook for a few minutes, until the bread is toasted, and repeat on the other side with another pat of butter. Place the sandwich on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 8 minutes, until the cheese is melted through. Serve immediately.

Notes: The pesto recipe yields about 6 ounces, which should be plenty for four sandwiches. Spread leftovers on toast for a snack.