Tomato-pesto grilled cheese


A fast lunch with summer’s bounty: just-picked tomatoes and homemade pesto. I grew up eating grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. Luke is a huge pesto fan; his go-to snack or quick lunch is grilled cheese with pesto-slathered bread. The combination is summer on a plate.

Our tomato plants are prima donnas this scorching summer, thriving one minute and drooping from lack of moisture the next. But they are managing to produce some tasty fruit.

The basil plants, on the other hand, are loving the heat. I’ve cut them back ruthlessly three times now, and they shoot right back up in no time. We now have a goodly stash of pesto in the freezer, and I should get at least one more batch.

Pesto is more of a process than a recipe. Put a clove of garlic and some nuts (I often use walnuts, but pine nuts are traditional) in the bowl of your food processor. Add a good glug of olive oil and give it a whir. This preliminary purée ensures that you don’t bite into a hunk of raw garlic later.

Add handfuls of clean, dry (via salad spinner) basil leaves and pulse again. Keep adding basil and oil and puréeing until the texture looks good to you. Add a pinch or two of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a few tablespoons of grated parmesan. Taste. I end up using about 4 cups basil leaves, 1 big clove garlic, 1/4 cup nuts, and about 1/2 cup oil. I also like to add a small handful of parsley and maybe some mint.

When it’s done, scoop some into a jar, slap on a lid, and keep it in the fridge for about a week. Put the rest into an ice cube tray and into the freezer. After a few hours, pop out the cubes and store them in a freezer bag. Each cube is about 2 tablespoons.

Sharp cheddar brings some intense cheesy flavor; Monterey jack offers a buttery, creamy texture. I like a little of each, but use whichever cheese makes you happy. Fresh mozzarella would turn this into a grilled caprese sandwich, for instance. (I may give this a shot with some brie.)


Tomato-Pesto Grilled Cheese
1 sandwich

1 small tomato
1/2 oz. sharp cheddar, about
1/2 oz. Monterey jack, about
4-5 tsp. butter, softened
2 slices good bread
2 tbs. pesto
salt and pepper

Thickly slice the tomato. Slice the cheeses thinly. Spread half the butter on one side of one slice of bread. Spread the pesto on the other piece of bread.

Melt the remaning butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Place the pesto-covered slice of bread in the pan, pesto side up. Swirl the bread around a bit to coat the bottom well with the butter. Top the pesto with the cheddar slices, then with the tomato slices. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Top with the Monterey jack, then the second slice of bread, buttered side up. Press lightly with a spatula and cook for about 5 minutes until deep golden on the bottom. Carefully flip the sandwich; cook for about 3 minutes until the second side is golden. (The second side always cooks much faster, so don’t leave it too long before you check.)


About Rivertree kitchen

I am a freelance editor with a specialty in cookbook editing. I've written two small cookbooks (50 Best Sundaes and 50 Best Cookies) and have edited more than 200. Despite my immersion in recipes, my favorite way to cook is to see what's in the fridge and wing it. I live with my husband and two dogs in rural Wisconsin. Husband (Tom) and son (Luke) are talented cooks themselves. All the photographs in this blog are my own creations. I'm a neophyte in the world of food photography (as if you couldn't tell), but I still claim blushing ownership of the pix you see here. If you want to reprint them (I can't imagine why), please give credit, if for no other reason than to pass on the blame.
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3 Responses to Tomato-pesto grilled cheese

  1. fanny says:

    Your photos are absolutely beautiful! This one especially caught my eye. Being able to make something simple like a grilled cheese jump off of the page isn’t easy and you’ve certainly mastered the art of food photography. Thanks for the follow 🙂 I really enjoy reading your recipes and hearing your stories and seeing your great pictures! Our styles are very similar–on the healthier side without actually being considered “healthy food.” Love it! Looking forward to drinking coffee tomorrow morning when I’m not at work and really getting to read some of these recipes!

    • Thanks so much! I’m strictly an amateur photographer, trying to learn more every day. I just moved up from a point-and-shoot to a basic dSLR, and am playing with lighting options. And I agree that we have a similar perspective on food–great ingredients, minor indulgences, focus on flavor. (As you can see, I’m enjoying your blog too.)

  2. fanny says:

    PS. Pesto on grilled cheese is my FAVORITE.

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