Concentrated products, whether soups, pastes, or powders, are some of my favourite ingredients to work with. Once you’re familiar with their scope and strength, you can dilute them as little or as much as you desire. In the case of tomato paste, you can create soup, sauce, or cocktails, all without any additional tomato products, but you can also use it as an intensely flavored accent for a grilled cheese sandwich.
Tomatoes and cheese are a committed couple. You’ll find them hanging out on pizza, in caprese salads, and in bowls of pasta, but there is something uniquely homey and comforting about a simple tomato soup and buttery grilled cheese sandwich. The tangy tomato and gooey cheese compete for dominance, so no one flavour lingers too long on the tongue, which is what keeps you going back for more. I don’t always have tomato soup lying around, but I am never without a can of tomato paste.
I could use the paste to make a soup, but I could also just smear it on my sandwich. I’ve smeared tomato paste on the inside of a grilled cheese sandwich and I’ve smeared it on the outside of a grilled cheese sandwich, and both have their merits.
Smear tomato paste on the outside of your grilled cheese for a pillowy, melty treat
You know that part of the pizza where the crust meets the inner portion of the pie? It’s dark red, almost burnt, but soft and sweet. That is the flavour and texture you get when you spread tomato paste on the outside of your sandwich. The paste caramelizes — and will burn if you’re not careful — and the excess moisture steams, rather than fries, the bread, creating a soft bite with a thin, tomato-y layer that’s not tough enough to be called a “crust,” though it does offer the slightest bit of resistance when bitten.
Start by spreading a teaspoon of paste on the “outside” of each piece of bread. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a nonstick pan over medium-low heat and add the first piece of bread, paste side down. Add a couple slices of your favourite melting cheese — I like white American, but shredded mozzarella would be fun — and place the second piece of bread, paste side up, on top of the cheese.
Keep a very close eye on this sandwich, peaking underneath it every minute or so until you start seeing little burnt spots. Lift the sandwich out of the pan, add a little more butter, then flip it back into the pan and cook until the paste darkens and the cheese is fully melted. Consume immediately.
Smear tomato paste inside your grilled cheese to maximise flavour and crispiness
Spreading tomato paste on the outside of your grilled cheese creates a sandwich with a certain amount of whimsy, but the bread becomes pillowy and tender, and some people cannot eat a sandwich unless it makes that “ccccchhhhh” sound when you run a knife across the top. (Such is the influence of TikTok.)
If you are the latter, do not despair: You can still enjoy this streamlined treat. Start by adding two tablespoons of paste to a nonstick pan, along with a drizzle of olive oil. Cook over medium heat until the paste darkens and shade or two, then spread it on the inside of one slice of sandwich bread. Build and grill your grilled cheese however you usually would. For me, this means lots of butter, and no mayo. (I love mayo in almost every application, but a grilled cheese sandwich is not one of them.)
You’ll get a grilled cheese sandwich with a crispy, buttery outside, and gooey and melted on the inside, with a layer of tangy, caramelised tomato flavour that’s reminiscent of tomato soup, without any dunking. Though you can certainly dunk if you please. There is nothing wrong with doubling up on tomato.
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