2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 small bulb fennel, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery with leafy tops, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. sugar or acacia honey
1 large bay leaf
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 boxes (26.46 oz. each) chopped or crushed tomatoes (I like Pomì)
6 tbsp. room temperature butter or 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise (I like Sir Kensington’s Fabanaise) or regular mayonnaise
About 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
About 2 tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, pasted or finely grated
8 slices good-quality white bread
4 slices mild provolone, deli-sliced on the thick side
4 slices white American cheese (I like Cooper Sharp White or Land O’Lakes), deli-sliced on the thick side
In a pot, add the oil, two turns of the pan, and the butter. Heat over medium to medium-high. When the butter melts, add the fennel, onion, celery, and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Add the sugar and bay leaf. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the stock. Raise heat to high. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Simmer until the flavors meld, about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, or working in batches in a regular blender, puree the soup; season.
For the sandwiches, heat a nonstick skillet or griddle over medium. In a small bowl, mix the butter, Parm, parsley, and garlic; lightly spread on 1 side of each bread slice. Build 4 sandwiches with the bread (spread-side facing out) and the sliced cheeses. Grill until the bread is deep golden and the cheese is melty, about 3 minutes per side. Cut each sandwich into 3 sticks (a.k.a. soldiers).
Serve the soup in crocks or bowls with the grilled-cheese soldiers for dipping.