Creamy Tomato Soup

Serves 8. Recipe is from Carmen Kellerman.

4 or 5 slices bacon

3 cloves garlic, minced

¾ cup chopped onion

3 ribs celery, chopped

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf (whole)

1 (28-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

Seasoned white sauce:

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 quart half-and-half

½ onion, coarsely chopped

4 whole cloves (don’t add more than 4 cloves)

Salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste

Garnish: small dollop sour cream, crumbled bacon and finely snipped green onion tops

Cracker, toast or bread sticks

1. In skillet fry bacon until crisp; remove and set aside, but retain fat in skillet. (If you don’t have about 2 tablespoons fat from the drippings, add a little vegetable or olive oil.) Sauté minced garlic for a minute, then add the 3/4 cup chopped onions, celery, thyme and bay leaf. Cook and stir until onions are soft.

2. Add petite diced tomatoes with liquid and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Continue cooking for 15-20 minutes, occasionally stirring.

3. Meanwhile make the thin white sauce: In large saucepan melt butter and whisk in flour to make smooth paste and continue whisking for a few seconds.

4. Remove pan from heat and gradually whisk in the cream. Add 1/2 onion, cloves, salt and peppers.

5. Return to medium-high heat and continue cooking and whisking until lightly thickened. Cook, uncovered, on medium heat for about 15 minutes.

6. Pour white sauce through a fine strainer and into the tomato mixture. Stir well to mix and continue heating for about 10-15 minutes. (If mixture is thicker then you like, it can be thinned with more milk or cream.

7. Serve warm with very small dollop of sour cream, reserved bacon and a sprinkle of snipped green onions. Pass the crackers or bread sticks.