Pretty much every day in this season I have no idea what to wear to work. If it feels cool, I may put on a light sweater, and then it turns out to be sweltering. Or the prediction is for a warm day that feels even warmer with some humidity, and even though I bring layers, I end up feeling damp and chilly.
Likewise in the kitchen, my meal plans go back and forth between something light and fresh, and a warm and hearty dish. And yet, the seasons press on toward cooler days, and it’s time to turn to my favorite soups and stews.
This stew may seem to use way too many onions, but I love how they become almost melted into the juices, to the point where the proportions are perfect. Although most beef stew recipes use beef or chicken broth, this version gets its richness by using wine and balsamic vinegar for the braising liquid. (Be sure to use a decent red wine, but an inexpensive balsamic vinegar is just fine, as any of the special stuff would be wasted here.)
Even though the beginning of this recipe requires some tending, once the meat is seared and the onions are softened, I like to let it braise in the oven (rather than simmer on the stovetop) so there’s a lot more hands-off time. And since I’m trying to wait as long as possible to turn the heat on, this is one way to warm up the house on a chilly day!
BEEF STEW WITH ‘MELTED’ ONIONS
2 pounds beef stew meat in cubes, about 1 inch
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
5 large red onions, about 3 pounds, cut in half and sliced thinly into half-moons
1 1/2 cups dry red wine, such as Chianti
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar (not the fancy, expensive kind)
2-3 medium carrots, about 12 ounces, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Pat the stew meat dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven or other large, heavy, oven-safe pot with a tight-fitting lid. When oil is shimmering and fragrant, add about half of the meat and sear on all sides. Be sure not to crowd the pot; rather do this in as many batches as needed given the size of the pot. Remove seared meat to a bowl.
Once all the meat has been seared, add all the onions to the pot with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become softened. Continue to cook for about 15-20 minutes until the onions are just beginning to stick to the bottom a bit. Add up to one additional tablespoon of oil if needed.
Add the wine to the pot and scrape up anything that might be stuck to the bottom. Add the balsamic vinegar and return the meat to the pot along with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl. Use a piece of foil to create a tighter seal between the pot and the lid. Cook in the oven for 1 hour, checking halfway through to make sure there’s still enough liquid. If not, add a small amount of warm water.
After 1 hour, add the carrots and stir to mix into the stew. Continue to cook in the oven for another hour, checking after 30 minutes to make sure the stew has not dried out.
Serve with something to soak up the gravy, such as polenta, noodles or mashed potatoes.