Tag Archives: basil pesto

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseAs far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster loved the Oscars. I couldn’t tell you when I first watched them, but I don’t recall ever missing a ceremony. Oscar Night is my favorite holiday. One of my best friends and I bonded over our mutual love of Oscar politics. I put great effort into predicting each year’s nominees and winners. I consider Martin Scorsese’s win in 2007 one of the happiest moments of *my* life. Put simply, I love them I love them I love them.

To that end, it will come as no surprise that I have a traditional Oscar Night meal. If you’ve been around here a while, you know by now that my Oscar dessert is always red velvet (because it’s “red like the red carpet”). The main though? I’ve never posted it. I’ve barely mentioned it. Until now, duh.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseI’ve been making Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheeses for dinner on every Oscar Night since 2005. Why? Because:

A) it’s effing delicious, as all cheesy pesto things are.
B) it’s easy, and that’s important when you’re cooking and watching red carpet coverage at the same time.
C) 20 year old me could afford all the ingredients and churn these out on the illegal electric burner I had in my dorm room. Pesto Mozzarella anything seemed very special to all my college pals and was enough to get them to watch the Oscars with me.
D) this is the height of sophistication in the category of Things I Once Cooked in a Residence Hall That I Still Make.

Anyway…this sandwich. This simple, simple sandwich. I’ve been making it for sixteen years and I won’t go an Oscar Night without it. It’s cheesy, it’s herby. It brings me so much joy on Oscar Night (and any night).Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseLet’s talk ingredients. First things first: get the good sandwich bread. I mean, whatever you have will absolutely work, but might I suggest sourdough? Or something crusty and chewy with an open structure so that some of the cheese melts through to the pan and gets crispy? Can you tell I’ve thought about this a lot???Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseNext up, Basil Pesto. It’s spread on both slices of bread involved in this grilled cheese and is the thing that makes it pop! The pesto pictured is my homemade stuff, but feel free to use store bought. Keep in mind that it’s a primary flavor though, so whatever you choose, make sure you really like it.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheesePesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseYou can’t have a grilled cheese without cheese! I use a mix of equal parts fresh mozzarella and low-moisture whole milk mozzarella that I shred on the large hole side of my box grater. This gives the sandwich the rich flavor of the fresh cheese with the perfect meltability (?) of the more processed stuff.

Don’t want to buy both? Don’t! You can use all of either one with good results. I am just persnickety after sixteen years and like a mix. You can also just slice and layer it instead of grating–whatever you like. A word to the wise: don’t buy the pre-shredded stuff. It just doesn’t melt right.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseThough most grilled cheeses are made with butter, I choose to use olive oil here to keep with the pesto flavor profile. I brush a little on both sides of my assembled sandwich before cooking.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseAnd speaking of cooking, as with my favorite classic grilled cheese, Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese is cooked over medium-low heat so that the bread crisps and the cheese melts at similar rates—no burnt outsides and cold cheese allowed! It’s all gooey, stretchy cheese, garlicky pesto and crispy edges up in here.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheeseI almost always serve these up with a green salad with cara cara oranges, red onion and balsamic vinaigrette (more “sophisticated” college food), but you do whatever makes you happy. I mean, the Oscars tend to be volatile enough that this sandwich may be the only thing that goes your way come Sunday night. But oh, what a win.Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese
makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices sourdough or other good sandwich bread
2 heaping tablespoons prepared basil pesto
2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, grated*
2 ounces low-moisture whole milk mozzarella,* grated (I used Trader Joe’s)
olive oil, for brushing
pinch or two of Kosher or sea salt

Lay all slices of bread on a surface. Spread about a 1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) of pesto over each one. Top two of the slices with the grated cheeses. Top cheese with remaining pieces of pesto-spread bread, “closing” the sandwiches. Use a pastry brush to brush olive oil on exposed plain bread. Sprinkle with salt.

Heat a medium-large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add sandwiches oiled-bread-side-down. Brush the exposed (plain-side-up) pieces of bread with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Let sandwiches cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes. Flip sandwiches and let cook, without moving or squishing, until they are golden on the other side, about 3 more minutes.

Remove to plates and serve immediately.


1. Fresh mozzarella doesn’t grate cleanly, but will still crumble nicely enough on the side of a box grater.

2. Low-moisture mozzarella is the kind that comes shrink-wrapped and is usually near the bricks of cheddar and pre-sliced cheese. Leftovers can be used in pasta dishes or for homemade pizza bagels or English muffin pizzas.

Pesto Mozzarella Grilled CheesePesto Mozzarella Grilled CheesePesto Mozzarella Grilled Cheese


Basil Pesto

When I was growing up, my parents insisted on family dinners nearly every night of the week, no matter how late E3 and I got finished with our extracurricular activities. As we got older, dance and piano practices went later and later, meaning dinner was often pushed to after 9pm, but as soon as everyone was home, we’d all sit down and catch up over a home-cooked meal. Those thirty minutes of family time every night are some of my favorite memories of my childhood, and not just because of all the joking that went on around our round kitchen table. My mom made dinner most nights. She is a good cook, although she doesn’t enjoy it the way I do. With rare exception, everything she put on the table was fantastic. Chicken divan, smothered pork chops, and corned beef were guaranteed hits with everyone, but my favorite was one of the few vegetarian meals she made: pasta with pesto, tomatoes and Parmesan. I just loved the combination of pasta, basil pesto, sweet tomatoes, and cheese. It wasn’t anything revolutionary, but it was delicious, and my mom made it often because she knew how I loved it.As I said, my mom is a good cook. But she isn’t always a scratch cook. She makes most things fresh, but when it comes to sauces, she usually goes for a jar. That pesto I loved so much is mass-produced. I continued to buy it into adulthood, not even imagining that I could make my own until I was well into my twenties. When I bought myself a food processor six years ago, pesto was one of the first things I made. I quickly ditched the storebought variety, and have been hooked on the homemade stuff ever since.Homemade Basil Pesto is delightfully quick and easy, and has a much brighter and more intense basil flavor than anything you’ll find in the grocery store. Start by putting two cups of fresh basil leaves, 1/3 cup each of pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, and two cloves of minced garlic into a food processor. You could certainly use whole garlic cloves, but I find that mincing them ahead of time guarantees that the final product won’t have any large pieces it it. I love pesto, but I don’t love biting into big chunks of raw garlic!While processing the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, and garlic, stream in a combination of olive oil and lemon juice. The olive oil is what makes the pesto saucy and rich, and the lemon adds just a touch of brightness and acidity. As the liquid ingredients whirl with the basil, pine nuts, cheese, and garlic, a thick, bright green sauce will form. All that’s left to do is blitz in some salt and pepper!

Basil Pesto is great just about anywhere you can think to use it. Try it as a sauce for pizza, serve it over grilled chicken, spread it onto a halved loaf of bread and crisp it in the oven. Seriously, this stuff is good on everything. My favorite way to eat pesto is the same as it’s always been: tossed with pasta, topped with tomatoes, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Basil Pesto
makes about 1 cup

1/2 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2-1 medium lemon (to taste)
2 cups basil leaves, packed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts (or toasted walnuts or sunflower seeds)
1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For Pesto Pasta:
1 lb small pasta, cooked to al dente, drained
1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking liquid
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
freshly-grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a measuring cup, combine olive oil and juice of 1/2 lemon.

Combine basil, garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese in the bowl of a food processor or high-powered blender. While processing, stream olive oil-lemon mixture through the food processor’s feed tube. Process until a thick, bright green sauce forms. Add salt and pepper and process until well-distributed. Add more lemon juice, if desired. Store pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

To make pesto pasta, combine pasta and pesto in a large pot and fold them together with a large spoon. Add 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid and fold again. Add more cooking liquid by the tablespoon, until the desired consistency has been reached. Serve pasta in bowls. Top with halved grape tomatoes and additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.