A very simple weeknight family dish that is interesting enough for guests
1-pound can peeled whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
1/2 cup beef stock or water
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
5 garlic cloves, halved
1 cinnamon stick
4-inch-long strip orange zest removed with a vegetable peeler
1 tablespoon dark honey
1 teaspoon pickling spice (tied in cheesecloth)
1 imported bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 11/2-inch cubes
1 pound fresh pearl onions
1 teaspoon sugar
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish
1. Stir together tomatoes, vinegar, stock, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, garlic, cinnamon stick, orange zest, honey, pickling spice, bay leaf, and cumin in a large earthenware casserole or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid. Stir in the beef and marinate the mixture, covered and chilled, overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
3. Place the beef, with its marinade, in the oven and cook, covered, for 1 hour.
4. While the stew is cooking, drop pearl onions into a small pan of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove from water and when cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. Place the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over moderately high heat. Add pearl onions, sugar, and enough water to just cover the onions. Cook until water has evaporated and onions are tender, about 20 minutes. (They should be coated with a light glaze.) After the stew has cooked for 1 hour, add onions to the stew.
5. Cook the stew, covered, for 2 hours more, or until the beef is very tender. (If the sauce has not thickened sufficiently, remove the cover for the latter portion of the cooking time.) Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
The mention of Greek food conjures up images of lamb on the spit. But the Greeks are great stewers as well -- particularly in the northern reaches of that spread-out country, particularly in winter. One classic Greek stew is called stifado, which can be made with any meat as the central player (sometimes it's even made with octopus); beef, however, is the most widely used meat in stifado. A proper stifado should contain wine, or vinegar, or both, and pearl onions. Sometimes the stew is highly spiced, and sometimes it has a sweet-and-sour character; we have pushed our stifado in those directions. This is, essentially, a very simple weeknight family dish that is interesting enough for guests. Great with orzo that has been tossed with butter and grated cheese (like kefalotyri, manouri, or mizithra). Serves 4