Adapted from Simple Cooking by John Thorne
Simple Cooking is a great book to leisurely read and cook from, then read again. This recipe is John Thorne's recreation of a dish he serendipitously had one night at the apartment of an acquaintance on the Lower East Side after she had captured a Greek sailor named Nikos, who spoke not one word of English while he cooked this meal for the three of them. John Thorne describes it as "an onion stew flavored with beef, not the other way around, the mouth focusing on a succulent, tomato-coated, beef-flavored mess of onion..." "He cooks the dish the way he remembers Nikos making it and the way he himself makes it, not from other recipes he has come across, which sometimes differ from this in the amount of meat and/or onions and the occasional suggestion to add cinnamon or strew the dish with Kalamata olives.
1 pound good beef chuck, flank steak, or london broil cut free of fat and gristle
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
3 pounds yellow onions, peeled and cut into large chunks (use Spanish onions, not sweet onions like Vidalia's for this dish)
5 or 6 cloves garlic, minced
6 ounces of tomato paste*
A generous pinch of dried marjoram
Slice the beef into narrow strips. Pour the lemon juice over the meat, and then stir it in to coat every piece.
Heat the olive oil until it begins to sizzle in a large, heavy, non-reactive pot (like a Le Creuset) with a firmly fitting lid. Put in the beef and cook it, stirring constantly, until it is browned on all sides. Once the meat has browned, add the the onions, tomato paste, marjoram, a generous pinch of salt, and a good grinding of pepper. I rarely add pepper when I cook something, usually reserving it to sprinkle on at the end, but this is an exception. It really adds to this dish. Stir the ingredients, cover the pot, and turn down the heat as low as it will go. No kidding, really, really low because you want it to cook for 4 to 5 hours. You should not hear any sounds emanating from the pot. If you hear anything, it's cooking too high.
At the end of the third hour, open the lid, gently stir the contents. Add a little more salt and pepper to taste. The onions should be reddish golden, not brown, soft but intact. Continue to cook for another hour or so at the same low temperature, or until all the liquid has evaporated, leaving off the top of the pot for the last 15 or 20 minutes if necessary. Serve with a robust red wine. I serve this with small steamed potatoes tossed with butter and parsley along with a tart green salad. I know it sounds like it would be good with orzo too, but if you want something noodley, I would serve hot, buttered wide egg noodles.
*Read Mary's post about great tomato paste. It would be perfect here.