A gourmet grilled cheese layered with a combination of provolone and mozzarella cheeses, ripe heirloom tomatoes and a homemade pesto sauce is definitely not your average grilled cheese sandwich! This version takes a classic and puts a slightly Italian spin on it with fresh, flavorful ingredients.
Gourmet Grilled Cheese, a Scrumptious Take on a Childhood Fave
When I think back on meal preparation for my son, when he was just a little guy, images of gooey grilled cheese sandwiches dance in my head.
Much to my chagrin, he was quite the picky eater when he was young, and getting him to enjoy foods outside of his comfort zone was a bit of a chore.
The one meal I could quickly and easily whip up for him and not get any whining was a classic grilled cheese sandwich, one of his absolute favorites.
He liked 'em nice and plain—only cheese and bread—and I quickly learned to not even try to sprinkle in something with some “flair”.
This kid's palate could detect with expert precision exactly the ingredient which I had snuck into his sandwich (again, much to my chagrin), and I'd have to prep a new one, “plain this time, mom, please!”.
All ribbing aside, I'm super thrilled to say that my son, indeed, grew out of his pickiness as I suspected he would once he entered his ravenous teens, developing a truly impressive palate and love for unique and delicious food now that he's in his early twenties.
Whenever I get the rare opportunity to cook for him these days, I know he really appreciates my sometimes off-the-wall recipes with my “special touches” and twists, which makes this gourmet grilled cheese recipe such a great offering.
My gourmet grilled cheese is stuffed full of flavorful provolone and creamy mozzarella cheeses for extra gooeyness, plus fresh slices of ripe, heirloom tomatoes and a generous dollop or two of my homemade pesto sauce.
It's a super fresh, bright and flavorful take on a grilled cheese sandwich, perfect for the kid in all of us, indeed!
How to Make Grilled Cheese Gourmet
Now, I wouldn't go so far as to call myself an “expert” grilled cheese maker, but since I do have my share of experience preparing them , I just so happen to have my own unique approach.
Just to talk ingredients, I'm personally a huge fan of bringing some brightness and freshness to my grilled cheese sandwiches, so I opt for some seasonal add-ins such as fresh tomatoes that are juicy and colorful.
I also love the addition of a quick homemade pesto sauce to drizzle over those tomatoes for that delicious garlicky, lemony, and basil-y flavor! Both those ingredients cut through the richness of the savory provolone and mozzarella cheeses, and give things a bit of an Italian flair.
When it comes to bread, one could use any basic white bread, but I happen to like a bit more heartiness and texture so I opt to use sliced sourdough bread. It's perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches, and it gets nicely crisp and golden!
As far as technique (sounds kinda funny since we're just talking grilled cheese here), I've found that the best grilled cheese sandwiches that I've made, I've incorporated the use of a good ol' standard brick (yes, brick!) wrapped in foil as a “weight” to press down the grilled cheese when it's in the pan.
This makes the sandwich evenly crisp and golden-brown on the outside and bubbly on the inside—kind of panini style—and I keep one in my cupboard specifically for making grilled cheese sammies!
Gourmet Grilled Cheese
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: 2 grilled cheese sandwiches
Nutrition Info: 773 calories per sandwich (with 2 tablespoons pesto sauce)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Grilled Cheese Ingredients:
• 4 slices rustic-style bread (I use sourdough)
• 2 to 3 tablespoons softened butter
• 2 slices provolone cheese
• 1 large heirloom tomato (yellow or red, or combo), sliced thinly into 4-6 slices
• Pinch of Salt
• Cracked black pepper
• 2 slices mozzarella cheese
• 4 ounces basil leaves
• 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
• ½ teaspoon lemon zest
• 4 cloves garlic
• 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
• ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
• ½ cup olive oil
• Salt to taste
- Begin by preparing the pesto sauce: place a small sauce pan or small pot with salted water over high heat and bring to a vigorous simmer, then turn off the water; add the basil leaves, swirl them with a spoon for 10-15 seconds, then remove the basil; place the basil in a bowl of ice water to shock it, then remove the leaves and pat them dry; set them aside for a moment.
- To the bowl of a food processor, add in the lemon juice, the zest, the garlic, the pine nuts, the parmesan and about 2 tablespoons of the oil, and process until it becomes a paste; add a couple of pinches of salt and the basil leaves, and process again, drizzling the rest of the oil in slowly; check the seasoning and add more salt, if needed.
- Top the pesto sauce with a very thin layer of olive oil, and set it aside until ready to assemble the grilled cheese sandwiches. (If prepping this pesto ahead, you can spoon it into a covered container and place it into the fridge, and it will keep fresh for at least a few days.)
- To prepare the gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches: butter one side of each piece of bread, and turn the un-buttered sides up, facing you.
- Place a piece of provolone onto one of the slices, then top with 2-3 slices of tomato, followed by a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.
- Add a healthy amount of the pesto over the seasoned tomato slices, then finish with a slice of mozzarella cheese; cover with another slice of bread, with the buttered side facing up this time; repeat with the other sandwich.
- Place a large cast-iron or non-stick pan over low/medium-low heat, and allow it to slowly get hot; then, add one sandwich in, and place the foil-wrapped brick (if using) on top of the sandwich, in the center, and do not disturb for about 4 minutes, or until that first side is golden-brown.
- Flip the sandwich, and, once again, carefully place the brick on top to press, and grill on that side for about 3 minutes.
- Slice the sandwich on the bias, and serve hot.
Tips & Tidbits for my Gourmet Grilled Cheese:
- Blanch the basil leaves for the pesto sauce: A little tip I learned over the years, to keep homemade pesto sauce nice and vibrantly green, is to very quickly blanch basil leaves in simmering water for about 10 seconds. After that, you remove the leaves and place them into ice water to shock them, which locks in their vibrant color. Voila, beautiful green pesto!
- Fresh, colorful tomatoes: I find heirloom tomatoes to be super pretty and unique with a delicious flavor, so I opt for yellow and and red heirlooms sliced thinly. Other great tomatoes are Campari tomatoes (super red, sweet and juicy), ripe beefeaters, or the larger pearl or cherry tomatoes.
- Ooey-gooey cheeses: For reasons of flavor and extreme meltability, I opt to use both provolone and whole milk mozzarella cheese in my gourmet grilled cheese. Provolone has a bit of a tasty pungency, and the mozzarella is super creamy.
- “Loafing around” with sourdough bread: Feel free to use your favorite kind of bread to make grilled cheese, but I love sliced sourdough as it has more body and a denser texture than traditional white bread. It can stand up to the layers of ingredients, and when buttered and toasted in the pan, it creates a crisp crust.
- Foil-wrapped brick, the best grilled cheese “press”: While it is not necessary to use a foil-wrapped brick for this recipe, it's a great trick for a crispy, golden-brown grilled cheese! Just use a common garden brick, wrap in aluminum foil, and press the sandwich with it while in the pan. (I change the foil wrapping on my brick after each use so it's fresh and clean, and even store it my cupboard.)
Cook's Note: This recipe was originally published in 2014, and has been updated with even more love!