About ninety-nine percent of the time, my weekday lunches never look this good. Despite my high standards and predictable “I hate leftovers!” protests, I usually brown bag it with a smorgasbord of leftovers from dinners gone by. On days when I venture out of the office the offerings are dismal at best. There are a few bright lights in the lunchtime scene — a gourmet grocery store down the road and a nearby sushi place that has yet to disappoint.*
But otherwise, my coworkers and I either have to hop in the car and drive a few miles to find variety or better yet someone pulls together a gourmet potluck. We tend to lean on a seasonal theme for inspiration but our last two have been in homage to National Pie Day. (FYI, there is also National Pi Day on March 14, for all of you math lovers out there. Pi Day is, of course, on March 14…3, 1, 4! Ah hahaha.) Really, is there a better day to celebrate? For our inaugural event, we cooked sweet pies (I made this). Eating about 15 tiny slices of pie I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but after an intense mid-afternoon sugar crash we revised our plans and broadened our menu to include savory for the second Pie celebration. At the last moment I had to miss our potluck because of a meeting (it is work, after all) and I hear there was an impressive array of lunches served in a crust.
By now you have probably guessed what I brought to the party and boy-oh-boy was this focaccia a good choice. (The focaccia almost didn’t make it to the office — I kept sneaking slices for myself the evening before and these photos are evidence of my lack of self-restraint.) I had to choose a pie that could be served at room temperature and was fairly fool proof. Focaccia with caramelized onions, pear and blue cheese delivered on all counts and scored a few extra points. The blue cheese offered its usual tang in the back of my throat and the caramelized onions and thinly sliced pears counterbalanced the cheese with sweetness.
At my desk after the meeting a big plate with samples of each pie magically appeared, along with the empty baking sheet that had once held the focaccia. I knew it had been a hit when I saw the empty pan and as always, I was completely flabbergasted by how talented everyone was at creating their own pie. I know, I know, this is a difficult life I am leading.
*Update: A sign was hung on a vacant building around the corner from our office that read “Squeeze Inn.” Eeeee! My life is forever changed.
focaccia with caramelized onions, pear and blue cheese
adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, January 2010
yields one 9 by 13-inch focaccia
For the focaccia crust:
1c warm water
1 package active dry yeast
2-1/2c all purpose flour
1/2c plus 1T extra virgin olive oil
1t kosher salt
For the focaccia toppings:
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1t light brown sugar
1 large Bosc pear, cored and sliced
1/2c crumbled blue cheese
Use your favorite pizza dough or, in a large bowl stir together the water, yeast and honey and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the flour and 1/4 cup of the oil and let stand for another 5 minutes. Stir in the rest of the flour and the salt, knead until smooth and roll into a ball. Oil the inside of a bowl, add the ball of dough and roll around to coat with oil. Cover with plastic and let sit for one hour.
In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium low heat. Add the onion, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar, cover and cook for another 10 minutes until browned.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Oil a 9- by 13-inch baking sheet with a light coating of olive oil. Transfer the dough from the bowl and onto the sheet, pressing it into shape. If it isn’t already, dimple the dough with your fingers and coat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Let the dough rise for 20 minutes until puffed.
Place the onions evenly across the top of the formed dough, then arrange the pears and blue cheese. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the focaccia. Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Transfer to a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.