Recipe: Focaccia with Caramelized Onions, Black Olives and Ras el Hanout
I find this collage extremely beautiful. I discovered it on the Internet while doing my usual trolling for food-related art. I couldn’t, however, find an artist to attribute it to, so I thought I’d just put up it for all my readers to see, and possibly the artist would come forth. I liked the religious/onion motif so much that I knew I had to respond to it with a recipe. Even though I’m not religious, this art really speaks to me. I love the sweet look on the guy’s face, and I love all the pink, red, and white shiny stuff, mostly onions, hanging off his head. That’s about as religious as I get. And when I think religion at all, I usually think bread, so here’s a focaccia I thought the man in this collage would enjoy. Of course it had to rely on onions as its main flavoring, but a seasoning I chose gives it real depth, I feel. Ras el hanout is a spice mix used in Moroccan cooking. It goes very well with caramelized onions, imparting layers of flavor and pulling them away from what can sometimes be a one-note sweetness. It’s a blend of warm spices, usually containing anise, fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, black pepper, sometimes nutmeg or allspice or rose petal, and often a bunch of other more exotic stuff, such as belladonna leaves, which can be hard to find here (and possibly a little toxic). I often make my own, but lately I’ve been buying a pre-mixed one from Kalustyan’s. It’s excellent. Mr. Onion Priest, this is for you.
Focaccia with Caramelized Onions, Black Olives and Ras el Hanout
For the dough:
1 package active dry yeast
1½ cups warm water (110-115 degrees)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 3½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
For the top:
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
8 or so large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
1 teaspoon ras el hanout
Freshly ground black pepper
A splash of dry Marsala
A handful of wrinkly, Moroccan black olives, pitted
Pour the warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast, giving it a quick stir to dissolve clumps, and let sit until frothy, about 8 minutes.
Add the olive oil to the yeast mixture. Then add 3 cups of flour and the salt. Stir the mixture until you have a nice soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead quickly, just until it’s smooth and elastic, about 3 or 4 minutes, adding a little more flour if needed to make it easier to work with. The dough will be quite soft.
Oil a large bowl, and place the dough in it, turning the dough once to coat the top with oil. Cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.
Coat a 10-by-15-inch sheet pan well with olive oil. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead very briefly to get out any air bubbles, then place it on the oiled pan. Stretch and pat the dough out to fit the pan. Now make indentations all over the dough with your fingertips. Give the focaccia a drizzle of olive oil, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it sit again until it’s puffy, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
In a large sauté pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onion, and sauté until it’s very soft and taking on a little color, about 10 minutes. If it starts to stick, cover the pan for a minute or so, or add a tiny splash of water. Add the sugar, the garlic, the thyme, and the ras el hanout, and season with salt and black pepper. Sauté a few minutes longer, until the spices and garlic are released and the onions are soft and nicely golden. Add a splash of Marsala, and let it boil away.
Uncover the focaccia, and spread out the onions over it. Scatter the olives on top. Give everything an extra drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Bake for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 375 degrees, and bake for about 15 minutes longer, or until the focaccia is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.