When I was little, I used to watch Popeye cartoons and wonder why he always ate a can of spinach anytime he was in a jam. Now I get it – spinach is a nutritional powerhouse, and although it can’t instantly give us superhero powers, the nutrients it contains do provide a number of benefits to our bodies. In addition to being low in calories and high in water (which makes it a filling addition to any healthy meal), spinach is an excellent source of Vitamin K (one cup contains almost 200% of the Recommended Daily Intake) and Vitamin A and a good source of Vitamin C and folate. One of the nicer attributes of spinach is that it’s so versatile – it can be sautéed, blended into smoothies, and eaten raw in salads. One of my new favorite uses for spinach is as a base for pesto sauce. And one of my new favorite kitchen experiments is making healthy, veggie-packed grilled cheese sandwiches. This recipe combines both of these things into a hearty, healthy, tasty meal.
Spinach Pesto Grilled Cheese
2 cups baby spinach, loosely packed
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon cashews (substitute walnuts if you don’t like/don’t have cashews)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Black pepper, to taste
4 slices 100% whole wheat bread (I like Pepperidge Farm German Dark Wheat)
Vegetable oil spread or spray
4 thin slices provolone or mozzarella cheese
2 small handfuls baby spinach
½ red pepper, chopped
1. To make the pesto, place ingredients into a food processor and pulse until thickened. If pesto is too thick, add more olive oil to reach desired consistency. (Note: Pesto can be made up to 5 days ahead of time and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)
2. Sauté red peppers with a little bit of olive oil in a small frying pan, stirring often, until they have softened, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside.
3. Heat up a griddle or skillet over medium heat.\
4. Lightly cover one side of each piece of bread with vegetable oil spread (or, spray griddle with vegetable oil spray if you prefer not to use the spread).
5. Flip bread over and place one piece of cheese on each slice. Cover one piece of cheese with a layer of pesto and sprinkle red peppers on top. Add a handful of spinach to the other piece of bread. Close sandwiches.
6. Place sandwiches onto heated griddle/skillet and cook until first side is golden brown, then flip sandwiches and cook until second side is golden brown and cheese is melted. Makes 2 sandwiches.