Bar menus have come a long way in the last few decades, now serving fare as gourmet as high-end restaurants. Chic offerings like crispy artichokes and seared scallops go wonderfully with cocktails or wine. But sometimes, all we really want is a grilled cheese. Not the basic slice of American between squishy white bread, but something great. Enter the BLT grilled cheese, a creation that makes every other sandwich toasted sandwich seem like a compromise.
About this recipe
The difference between a good grilled cheese and a spectacular one is all about the details. This one gets some sweetness from sun-dried tomatoes, saltiness from bacon, and a little bit of spice from a simple arugula pesto. There’s also cheese, lots and lots of cheese. Everything about it is easy, but the combination of flavors tastes high-end, making it the perfect snack to throw together for friends.
Let’s start with the pesto. Instead of the basil found in a traditional pesto alla genovese, we used arugula. It gives the sauce a livelier, spicier taste, though you could use basil if you prefer. The same goes for nuts. You can stick with almonds, but pine nuts, walnuts, or pistachios will all work. Whatever type of green and nut you use, just toss them into the food processor with some garlic and a pinch of salt, then stream in the oil until it forms a thick sauce. Lastly, add the Parmesan. It takes no longer than 60 seconds and somehow seems fancy.
Though you probably mastered the art of making grilled cheese decades ago, we have a few tips for taking yours to the next level. First off, skip sliced cheese and go for grated instead. You get better coverage, and it melts much more easily than a solid piece of dairy. The second tip has to do with the butter. While you can certainly melt it in a pan then add your sandwiches, you’ll get better results if you spread it onto the bread before cooking. It pretty much guarantees even browning across the entire surface of the bread.
To construct your masterpiece, smear one side of each bread slice with the butter, then flip half of them over. Spread a good amount of pesto on the naked side of these two slices, then follow with the sun-dried tomatoes and bacon, and end with the cheese. Though not completely necessary, we cut each bacon slice in half, then vertically lay them four across the sandwiches. We like to serve these sandwiches cut into fingers, and this method guarantees each one has the same amount of bacon.
As for cooking, take it slow. The cheese takes a bit of time to melt, so the heat needs to be low enough to keep the bread from getting dark too quickly. It’ll take about 4 minutes on each side. You’ll be rewarded with a golden exterior and perfectly gooey cheese.
Pairing wine and cocktails with this snack is all about considering the balance of flavors. Wine Spectator suggested going with a fruity, medium-bodied red for BLTs, and the suggestion will work for this grilled cheese as well. The article also suggested trying a dry rosé. Bacon and bourbon get along swimmingly, so choose a straightforward cocktail highlighting the spirit. An old fashioned would be a great choice.
If you’re still making up your mind about what type of drink you’d like to try with this grilled cheese, go for beer. Serious Eats likes witbier, pilsner, and hefeweizen with mozzarella. Pilsner may be the best bet because it has just enough hops to stand up to the bacon.
BLT Grilled Cheeses with Arugula Pesto
You’ll end up with leftover pesto, which can be used in a bunch of different ways. Mix it into cream cheese for a great bagel spread, add a few dollops to an omelet, or use it in place of tomato sauce on pizza. This recipe serves 4 as an appetizer.
- 2 tablespoons chopped, toasted almonds
- ½ garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 cups packed arugula
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 slices hearty white sandwich bread
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained, and patted dry
- 4 bacon slices, cooked, and cut in half
- 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
Directions: In a food processor, pulse nuts and garlic until finely chopped. Add arugula and a pinch of salt. Pulse a few times, then stream in olive oil with motor running until pesto is smooth and combined. Add Parmesan and pulse just to incorporate.
Butter one side of each bread slice. Place two bread slices, buttered-side down, on a work surface and spread naked side with a heaping tablespoon of pesto, making sure to evenly coat the entire slice. Top pesto with chopped sun-dried tomatoes, then vertically arrange four bacon halves across each sandwich. Top with cheese, and close sandwiches with remaining bread slices, buttered-side facing out.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add sandwiches and cook until cheese is melted and bread is golden and crisp, about 4 minutes per side. Cut each sandwich vertically into four fingers and serve.