The Simple Tomato Addition That Amps Up Grilled Cheese Beyond Belief

Chances are, you're already familiar with the appeal of the iconic comfort food pairing that is a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. Creamy, savory, and crispy, with that juicy, acidic flavor pop, this infallibly delicious combination was first made popular during World War II — when it was served to military families as an economically friendly, balanced meal — and has since evolved into both a classic at-home rainy day meal and casual diner order. But what if you could capture the zesty, creamy taste of the mouthwatering pairing in one fell swoop? You can — by adding a layer of tomato paste to your sandwich.

Tomato paste, a smooth, thick pantry staple made of concentrated tomatoes and added seasonings, is frequently used to add deeper flavor and depth to dishes and condiments with a tomato base, such as pasta sauce. And with its savoriness and significantly denser texture than its tomato sauce cousin, it's also often utilized effectively as a flavor enhancer and thickener for casseroles and the best chili recipes. But it can also add an extra flavor and texture boost to that grilled cheese sandwich when spread on the inside of your bread slices — but be warned, this grilled cheese upgrade is so good, you may never look back.

But why tomato paste?

Using tomato paste — as opposed to tomato sauce or even fresh tomatoes — for your grilled cheese sandwich is a fun twist due to its steadier texture and concentrated, robust flavor. Yes, adding tomato sauce can be an effective method of livening up pasta sauce or soup, but its high water content sometimes leads to diluted flavors in other dishes. Tomato paste, on the other hand, has a significantly reduced water content, allowing the flavor of the tomatoes to shine through. And while there's nothing wrong with simply smearing it inside your sandwich, caramelizing the tomato paste can give you an even more powerful punch of flavor. Since tomato paste possesses a sweetness due to its natural sugars, caramelizing it emboldens its zesty taste, and offers your sandwich a rich, thicker inner layer to pair with your melty cheese that you couldn't get from an ordinary raw tomato.

Caramelizing your tomato paste is easy — you'll simply cook it in a nonstick skillet with olive oil until it becomes a deeper maroon color (no longer than a few minutes on medium heat) before spreading it on your bread and adding your cheese. Alternatively, if you prefer a gooier sandwich interior, you can simplify the process by merely spreading a layer of your paste on the inside of one (or both) of your bread slices without cooking it first, then grill your sandwich as usual for a pizza-like texture.

Delicious cheese pairings for your tomato paste

The type of cheese you use for your tomato paste grilled cheese is a matter of taste; however, some varieties pair better together than others. Sharp cheddar is a popular choice for grilled cheese sandwiches due to its easy meltability — and its pungent, tangy flavor pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the tomato paste.

If you'd like to add an even saltier flavor boost, earthy gorgonzola would be an excellent pairing with the caramelized tomato paste, adding sophistication to the overall flavor profile, as well as a creamy texture. And if a classic caprese-inspired grilled cheese with a seriously satisfying cheese-pull is more your speed, use mozzarella. However, it's important to note that mozzarella has a high moisture content, which may result in a soggy sandwich; thus, opt for shredded low-moisture mozzarella for optimal meltiness while preserving the texture of your bread and paste layer. Feel free to add some basil leaves to your sandwich before grilling for that spicy, minty flavor pop that will bring it all together.

Got leftover tomato paste? You can freeze it in small portions — about one tablespoon each — in parchment paper and a storage container for up to six months for future grilled cheeses.