Winter Tomato Soup with Goat Cheese Crostini

1/3 cup extra-virgin oil
4 cups thinly sliced onions (3-4 medium onions)
Sea salt or kosher salt
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
Large pinch of red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes or diced tomatoes in juice
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water
2 2-inch strips orange zest
1 sprig fresh sage

4 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 baguette
1 garlic clove, halved

2 tbsp chopped fresh chives or flat-leaf parsley, for serving

For the soup:
In a 3- to 4-quart Dutch oven or other heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1/2 tsp salt and cook, stirring, until the onions are softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic cloves, carrot, and pepper flakes, lower the heat, cover, and cook until the vegetables are sweet and juicy but not browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Check, stirring occasionally, and add 1 tablespoon water if the vegetables appear dry.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the olive oil turns reddish orange, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, the stock or water, orange zest, and sage and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and discard the orange zest and sage. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or working in batches, in a regular blender or a food processor) until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper. Transfer to a saucepan and reheat before serving.

For the Crostini:
Preheat the oven to 400°.

In a small bowl, use a fork to beat together the goat cheese, olive oil, thyme, lemon zest, and a few grinds of black pepper until smooth.

Slice the baguette on the bias into four to six 1/3-inch-thick slices that are 2 to 3 inches long. Lay the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes.

Rub the toasts with the garlic halves and spread with the goat cheese mixture.

Pour the soup into four bowls and float a crostini on each. Sprinkle with the chopped chives or parsley and serve immediately.

-Peter Berley, The Flexitarian Table