While doing some research for an upcoming trip to Tuscany, I stumbled across this ancient recipe for a hearty beef stew known as Peposo. The tile masons of Brunelleschi’s famed octagonal dome of the great duomo of Florence would prepare this dish in their kilns. The very simple recipe calls for a very long and very slow simmer in the oven or on top of the stove over the lowest fire possible. One can envision the masons sitting around their kilns toiling into the evening while pots of this simmered nearby…breaks perhaps with a jug of wine, a good loaf of bread packed from home that morning and steaming plates of this wonderful stew. It is said to have originated from the famed terra-cotta center of Impruneta, south of Florence.
I found this amusing story on Peposo at See Tuscany.com – http://www.seetuscany.com/food/peposo.html. ‘The stew is a fiery exception to the rule that Tuscan cooking is bland, and is also one of the few dishes to have provoked a general strike. According to legend, Brunelleschi tried some while he was scouting tilemakers for the roof of the Duomo. He loved it, and asked the cook to come to Florence, with a boy agile enough to climb the scaffolding to deliver bowls of stew to the workers engaged in erecting the cathedral (this way they wouldn’t loose time climbing down, going elsewhere to buy food, and climbing back up). Brunelleschi’s workers went on strike to get their lunch hour back.’
I found two versions of the recipe – the new world recipe adding in tomatoes which would not have yet been introduced to Brunelleschi’s palate (they arrived much later) or the simple peppery version with additional amounts of wine. I opted for the old world version and this recipe did not disappoint. Simply wow! The dish does take hours to simmer but simple, simple, simple to put together and then off you go about your business with the occasional swish of the spoon. The dish is typically served with slices of toasted bread and I found one recipe that added a side of wine-poached pears – which I couldn’t resist. So whip up a batch, set to simmer, and enjoy the result…..
Peposo with Wine-Poached Pears
3 pounds boned beef shank or beef stew meat
4 teaspoons black peppercorns
10 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bottle of strong dry wine, such as Chianti
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
Toasted Italian bread slices
4 firm, ripe pears
1/4 cup white wine
1. Place peppercorns in a bag and crush using a mallet. (I did not crush mine too fine – kept them ‘chunky’.)
2. Place beef in in a heavy pot. Add in the peppercorns, chopped garlic, bottle of wine and salt. Place over a very, very low flame so that the liquid is just barely simmering.
3. Simmer for 4-5 hours until the meat literally breaks apart in the juice. If the liquid level drops during cooking, add a tad more wine or water.
4. Adjust salt at end. THAT”S IT!
5. For the pears – peel, core and quarter the pears. Place in a pan. Add the juice of 1 lemon and 1/4 cup white wine. Add 1/4 cup warm water. Simmer until tender …about 5 minutes depending on the ripeness of the pears.
6. Plate the dish – place one slice of toasted bread in the plate. Spoon peposo and juices on top. Arrange pears alongside and serve. Heavenly!!!