Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Italian braised beef

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 Italian braised beef Another dish so simple that it hardly needs a recipe, but so good that you'll want to make it anyway.
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Italian braised beef

January days call for hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dishes, and this simple Italian preparation of roast chuck beef and onions fills the bill in a delightful way, with added credit for being just about as easy as a recipe gets.

Another gift from the recently translated Italian Silver Spoon cookbook, it's called "brasato alle cipolle" in Italian, and the name ("braised with onions," the word "beef" being understood) pretty much is the recipe: Put onions and beef in a pot and cook very slowly until the beef and the onions fairly melt into each other, forming their own succulent sauce from the juices. That's all there is to it, demonstrating that "It's a gift to be simple" is not only Shaker wisdom but good Italian common sense too.

Here's my version of the recipe, slightly altered to start the onions cooking in a little olive oil. Silver Spoon advises putting the beef and onions in a dry casserole and letting 'er rip without any liquid at all. If you're brave enough to try it, please let me know how it goes.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves six to eight)

2 medium or one large yellow onion
2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil
2 1/2 pound (1 kilo) beef chuck roast


1. Peel the onion and cut it into thick slices; separate the slices into rings.

2. Put the oil and the sliced onions in a heavy casserole or dutch oven and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they soften.

3. Put the beef on top of the onions. There's no need to put in additional liquid, as the beef will give off plenty. Cover tightly, reduce heat to very low, and cook for 1 hour. Uncover, turn the beef over, add salt and pepper to taste, cover, and cook for another hour.

At the end of cooking, remove the beef to a serving plate and slice to order. You can serve the pan liquid and onions as is, or run it through a food mill to make a tasty sauce for pasta. (I served a little of it over farfalle.)

WINE MATCH: Beef calls for a red wine, and Italian beef suggested an Italian red, so I opened a robust Veneto item, Santi 2001 "Solane" Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso. Frankly, because pot roasting yields a tender but well-done piece of beef, the hearty Ripasso was almost more wine than the meat really needed. A simple, lighter and fruitier Valpolicella might have served it even better, or a Beaujolais or lighter-style Pinot Noir. But the Ripasso wasn't bad, and the sweet caramelized onion accent certainly played well with the wine's intense dried-fruit flavors.

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this article or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by the Food & Drink section of our online WineLovers Community, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Italian braised beef,"

Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

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Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Vegetarian lasagna (Jan. 5, 2006)

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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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