2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), plus additional
4 slices smoked bacon, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart chicken stock, divided
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, finely chopped, or 1/4 teaspoon dry oregano
1 28-ounce can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
Butter, for greasing skillet
16 slices of party-size (small squares) rye bread
16 small, square slices sharp cheddar cheese, cut into slices 1/4-inch thick
Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat with 2 turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Add the chopped bacon and cook until crisp, stirring every now and then, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the crispy bacon from the pot and reserve for the Mini Grilled Cheese Sammies.
To the soup pot, add the garlic, onion, celery, carrots and some salt and pepper. Cook, stirring every now and then for 4-5 minutes, until they start to get tender.
Remove the tender veggies from the pot to a food processor or blender, throw in a big splash of the chicken stock and the marjoram, and puree until smooth.
Return the veggies to the pot, place back over medium-high heat and add the remaining chicken stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, sugar, red pepper flakes and heavy cream, if you are using it. Bring up to a bubble and simmer while you make the sammies.
Preheat large skillet over medium heat with the butter. While the butter is melting, lay 8 of the rye slices down on a cutting board. Top each one with a slice of cheese, a sprinkle of the reserved bacon, another slice of cheese and a final piece of bread. Transfer to the hot skillet and cook until the bread is toasted on each side and the cheese is melted.
Serve the Smokey Tomato Soup with the Mini Grilled Cheese Sammies alongside.