Carbonade is one of the classic Valdostan stews, and was a mainstay of the valley diet. The traditional recipe calls for the use of salt-cured beef, which is quite dark and gives the dish its name (carbonade, charbon, charcoal). Now restaurants commonly prepare it with fresh beef, though some marinate the meat overnight. Cooking times have also decreased from the three hours of the original and now some put the onions through a strainer or thicken the sauce with a little flour.
800 g lean beef, cubed
2 medium-sized onions
A bay leaf
A few cloves
A pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
A pinch of powdered cinnamon
A pinch of sugar
2 cups full bodied dry red wine
1/4 cup unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
Continuing with the introduction, the salt-cured beef that was once used did require marinating to soften it (and get some of the salt out), but if you start with fresh beef marinating is not required.
You are of course free to marinate if you want; if you decide to marinate the meat, marinate it in the wine for 4-6 hours (at the most, overnight), adding the bay leaf, cloves, and other spices to the wine. Come time to prepare the recipe, remove the meat from the wine with a slotted spoon and pat the pieces dry. Then continue as you would if you did not marinate the beef:
Flour the beef, and brown the pieces in the butter, fishing them out of the pot with a slotted and setting them aside as they’re done. Slice the onions into rounds and brown them in the same pot, add a ladle of broth, and simmer until the broth has evaporated. Add the meat and the spices, shred the bay leaf into the dish, salt it, and add a pinch of sugar if you like. Then add the wine, bring it all to a boil, reduce the heat to a slow simmer, and cook covered, adding more broth as necessary to keep it from drying out.
After about an hour, dust it with a healthy grinding of pepper, and serve it with polenta enriched with fontina cheese or boiled potatoes seasoned with butter and sage.