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Bean and Bacon Soup

10 oz smoked bacon (about 9 – 10 slices), diced in small pieces
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (1 medium)
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots (about 3 large)
1 1/2 cups chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbsp)
5 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme (optional)
3 (15 oz) cans navy beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups (5 oz) shredded mozzarella or string cheese
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving (optional)

Cook bacon in a large enameled cast iron pot until browned and crisp, transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, while leaving 2 Tbsp rendered bacon drippings in pan and discarding remaining (or reserving for another use like breakfast potatoes). Heat drippings over medium-high heat and add onions, carrots and celery. Saute 4 minutes then add garlic and saute 2 minutes longer. Add in chicken broth, tomato paste, sugar, thyme and beans. Stir in 3/4 of the cooked bacon, while reserving remainder in a small resealable bag in refrigerator until ready to use. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until veggies are soft, about 30 minutes. Transfer 2 1/2 cups of the soup to a blender, cover with lid (while removing lids center insert and holding a folded kitchen towel over blender) blend until smooth. Stir pureed mixture back into soup. Serve warm topped with shredded cheese and parsley. Thin soup with more broth or water if desired.
Recipe source:cookingclassy