Caleb and I spent this past weekend playing in an ultimate tournament at a tiny college in a small town in Illinois with some pretty awesome people and it was a blast. Some of our favorite people in KC invited us to play on their alumni team and they have such a fun, tight-knit group of friends. We loved getting to know and spend time with their crew, if only they’d all move to Kansas City!
I have one bit of big news before we get on to these sandwiches. We’ve probably looked at 50 apartments in the last three weeks and I am so happy to say that we have finally found the perfect apartment. It’s walking distance to Caleb’s work, brand new, has an open kitchen with the biggest sink I’ve ever seen (outside of restaurant kitchens) and has lots of natural light. I could not be more excited!
Okay moving on to these sandwiches. So this masterpiece came about when I was trying to use up leftovers in the fridge and we had a bunch of roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli and spinach and I thought, let’s throw it all between some bread, slap some cheese on there and make the ultimate “healthier” grilled cheese sandwich. And if you’re having grilled cheese, everyone knows you have to eat it with tomato soup. But, Caleb doesn’t like soup… I know, I don’t get it either. So in an effort to compromise, I made a “concentrated” tomato soup, (otherwise known as marinara sauce) and used it for dipping and it was beyond amazing!
Needless to say, we’ve made it many times since and I’m super excited to share it with you guys. I really must stress that the marinara sauce is essential! The sandwich is good on it’s own, but the marinara sauce is what really sets it over the top. You don’t have to make your own (though it will be more delicious if you do) but you could also just warm up a jar of spaghetti sauce if you so desire. My recipe for the marinara sauce is taken straight from the New York Times’ recipe for “Simple Tomato Sauce“. And it is just that, very simple and inexpensive to make and also really delicious. It’s been my go-to for a while now and it’s never failed me.
I really wouldn’t suggest substituting the veggies in the recipes. Unless you just don’t like sweet potatoes or broccoli or something, then you can just leave it out. But otherwise I’d keep it the same.
As far as the bread and cheese, I used whole grain wheat bread and sharp cheddar but you could use whatever bread and cheese you have, though I do think a sharper cheese is better. Or to make it vegan, you can also leave out the cheese and use vegan mayo and it is also delicious! I tried it so I can vouch for it!
The ultimate "healthier" grilled cheese! Packed with veggies and that gooey cheesy goodness you're craving from a grilled cheese with a simple but fantastic homemade marinara sauce for dipping that sets it over the top!
- 1.5 lb sweet potatoes
- 3 cups broccoli florets
- 1 T + 1 T + 4 t olive oil, divided
- 1/2 t + 1/2 t salt, divided
- 1/2 t + 1/2 t smoked paprika, divided
- 4 T mayo (or veganaise)
- 8 slices whole grain bread
- 4 slices (4 oz) of sharp cheddar cheese (omit for vegan)
- 2 cups fresh spinach
- For the Marinara Sauce:
- 1 (28 oz) can of whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 T olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1. Preheat the oven to 450°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- 2. Cut the sweet potato in 1/4" thick slices. (see photos) This can be difficult. If you feel more comfortable, cut the sweet potato into 1/4" cubes. Either is fine. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer.
- 3. Cut the broccoli into small florets and place on second baking sheet. Sprinkle 1 T olive oil, 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t smoked paprika on sweet potatoes, and toss. Do the same for the broccoli.
- 4. Put the sweet potatoes and broccoli in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- 5. While veggies are roasting, make the sauce. Open the can of tomatoes and either process them until they are chunky but not completely smooth in a food processor, or squeeze the tomatoes with your hands in a big bowl until there are no more large pieces.
- 6. Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add 2 T olive oil. When oil is hot, add the garlic. Cook for 1 minute until fragrant, stirring often.
- 7. Add the tomatoes, salt, herbs and red pepper flakes and stir. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When sauce has reduced by about 1/3, cover and remove from the heat.
- 8. When the 20 minutes is up, remove the veggies from the oven. Flip the sweet potato slices (or toss the cubes), return the pan to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes. The broccoli is done. You're looking for the edges to be crispy and slightly burnt. If they aren't, toss and bake for a few more minutes.
- 9. Next, spread a thin layer of mayo on all of the slices of bread and set them out on a cutting board or clean counter. Put one slice of cheese on half of the bread.
- 10. When the 10 minutes is up, remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and finish composing the sandwiches. Put a big handful of broccoli on top of the cheese. Cover the remaining 4 slices of bread with sweet potato and put a big handful of spinach on top of the sweet potatoes. Then, carefully flip the two sides of each sandwich together.
- 11. Now, heat a frying pan on medium low heat and add a teaspoon of olive oil. When oil is hot, add a sandwich to the pan. After 2-3 minutes, when the bread is golden brown, flip the sandwich. When the other side is brown, remove the sandwich from the pan. (I put the finished sandwiches on a plate in the microwave to keep them warm.) Repeat with the remaining 3 sandwiches. If the bread is burning before the cheese melts, turn the heat down.
- 12. When the sandwiches are all cooked, transfer the marinara sauce to a serving bowl. Cut sandwiches in half and serve immediately with the marinara sauce for dipping! Yum!
The marinara sauce recipe is from the New York Times' recipe for Simple Tomato Sauce