Peposo (Tuscan Beef Stew)

Peposo (Peppery Tuscan Beef Stew)

In secondi piatti, Toscana by Frank Fariello29 Comments

This Tuscan beef stew has a long history. The story goes that it was invented by the furnace workers (fornaciai) who baked the terracotta tiles for the Brunelleschi’s famous Duomo in Florence. They mixed roughly cut up beef shank, salt, lots of black pepper and red wine—Chianti, of course—in terracotta pots and let it all bake slowly in a corner of their furnace until it was time to eat. The original slow cooker recipe?

The dish is still popular in Tuscany today, and the little town of Impruneta, a few kilometers south of Florence, is well-known for its annual sagra (festival) dedicated to the dish. These days, peposo is more likely than not to be made with tomato sauce, but being the traditionalist I prefer the original, pre-Columbian version.

In any event, once you put the ingredients together in a pot and pop them in the oven—and there’s no browning or soffritto to mess with this time—this tasty dish quite literally cooks itself. After all, those fornaciai had more important matters to attend to… just like you. But I warn you, the ambrosial aroma of peposo as it slowly bakes in the oven can be very distracting.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 people

  • 1 kg (2 lbs) beef for stew
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 20g (3/4 oz) whole peppercorns
  • Salt, preferably roughly sea salt, to taste
  • 1 bottle red wine, preferably Chianti

Directions

Cut the beef into large chunks, along the natural muscle separations where possible.

Peposo (prep 1)

Lay the beef chunks into the bottom of a terracotta pot and insert the garlic cloves interspersed among the beef chunks here and there. Sprinkle the whole peppercorns and salt over everything.

Peposo (prep 2)

Pour over enough red wine to cover the beef.

Peposo (prep 3)

Cover the pot and place in a slow oven (160C/324F) for 4 hours or more, until the beef is falling apart tender and the red wine has reduced into a rich sauce. If the dish is still too liquid and you’re ready to eat, remove the cover, which will allow it to reduce more quickly. Although unconventional, just before serving you can also add a spoonful or two of potato starch mixed with an equal amount of water to give the sauce some liaison.

Notes

Most Italian recipes for Tuscan beef stew call for beef shank, which can be hard to find. My favorite cut for any sort of braised beef is chuck. You can also use, of course, those pre-cut ‘stewing beef’, although I’ve never quite figured out exactly what cut it is. If using chuck, you may want to trim off some of the excess fat, but leave some on for flavor. Although I haven’t tried it (but I will!) I bet that short ribs would be fabulous made this way.

Like many traditional recipes, there are multiple variations on the theme. As mentioned, the most common has got to be the use of tomatoes, either just a few or a lot (see the related articles listed below for some lovely examples). Some recipes call for ground pepper, which gives the dish a more pungent flavor than leaving the peppercorns whole, so I would use less of it, perhaps half as much by weight. Some recipes call for much less pepper than this anyway, something like 15 peppercorns for this amount of meat (although personally I’d never be patient enough to count them out!) And some recipes call for leaving the head of garlic whole, peeled only of the excess papery outside skin, and perhaps trimmed on top, nestled in the middle of the beef. Other recipes call for cloves left whole and unpeeled. Finally, you will also find recipes that call for a sprig of fresh rosemary or sage to go into the pot along with the rest.

The traditional cooking vessel for making this Tuscan beef stew is a covered terracotta pot. It does give the dish a special taste and, for me, it provides a real sense of connection with those original furnace workers. (What can I say, I’m a romantic at heart…) If you don’t have a terracotta pot, enameled cast iron works perfectly well. And, of course, in a pinch any oven-proof dish will do.

Peposo is traditionally served with slices of Tuscan bread, accompanied perhaps with beans or sautéed spinach. It goes equally well, to my mind, with mashed potatoes or polenta. The latter is not very Tuscan, perhaps, but very nice nonetheless.

Peposo (plated)

Peposo (Peppery Tuscan Beef Stew)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 4 hours

Yield: Serves 4-6

Peposo (Peppery Tuscan Beef Stew)

Ingredients

  • 1 kg (2 lbs) beef for stew
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 20g (3/4 oz) whole peppercorns
  • Salt, preferably roughly sea salt, to taste
  • 1 bottle red wine, preferably Chianti

Directions

  1. Cut the beef into large chunks, along the natural muscle separations where possible.
  2. Lay the beef chunks into the bottom of a terracotta pot and insert the garlic cloves interspersed among the beef chunks here and there. Sprinkle the whole peppercorns and salt over everything.
  3. Pour over enough red wine to cover the beef.
  4. Cover the pot and place in a slow oven (160C/324F) for 4 hours or more, until the beef is falling apart tender and the red wine has reduced into a rich sauce. If the dish is still too liquid and you're ready to eat, remove the cover, which will allow it to reduce more quickly. Although unconventional, just before serving you can also add a spoonful or two of potato starch mixed with an equal amount of water to give the sauce some liaison.
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Frank FarielloPeposo (Peppery Tuscan Beef Stew)

Comments

  1. Gary

    Has anyone tried this in a crockpot? Just wondering if it would work if set on high for 4 to 5 hours.

  2. Martha

    I’ll be teaching a cooking class in the next 2 weeks and I think that this is just what I’m looking for! I’d been thinking about peposo, lately. It really is unique. I loved getting a big plate of it at Nerbone in the Mercato Centrale in Firenze. I especially like the history that goes along with it. Thanks, Frank!

  3. Emily

    This is awesome!! Just made this with garlic and rosemary from my garden – I used sirloin tips and 1/2 cup thick tomatoe sauce in addition to the wine – this recipe is a keeper- thank you!

  4. Mercedes

    I plan to double the recipe, using 4 lbs of beef. Do you recommend doubling the garlic and the whole peppercorns? I would appreciate your thoughts on this!

  5. Rosario R. Larracas

    Thank you. I made this dish fro dinner last night. My son loved it and I am filing the recipe under favorites. We had over hot boiled rice the Filipino way. I plan to try the variation with tomato paste next time.

  6. Nuts about food

    Oooooh, this sounds amazing. Had never heard of it before but am making this. I love how simple it is to make, although I admit that what I am doing is not quite as important as what the fornaciai were up to!

  7. HolliDe

    OH MY Goodness! And I mean GOODNESS!!! I made this for dinner last and my husband LOVED it! I made it exactly like you said, using a terracotta pot, and served it atop a very thick slice of Tuscan bread and accompanied it with cannelini beans that I made with chicken stock, fresh sage sprig, and salt and pepper. This recipe is DEFINITELY a keeper! Mille grazie and I am looking forward to trying many more of your recipes!

    1. Frank Fariello

      I’m delighted to hear you made and enjoyed the dish, HolliDe. Sounds like a great meal! And many thanks for your readership!

  8. Valentina

    L’ho assaggiato a Firenze l’anno scorso ed era semplicemente divino: grazie per la ricetta!
    ma siamo sicuri che non ci va niente olio né burro? Mi sembra così strano! Forse il grasso della carne è sufficiente?
    Saluti da Roma :)

    1. Frank Fariello

      Sembra strano ma è così! Niente rosolatura, niente soffritto, niente grassa tranne quella della carne. Eppure risulta molto saporito… Magico!

    1. Frank Fariello

      Thanks, Vicki! Definitely worth a try—it is quite tasty. I guess those furnace workers didn’t have time for cutting up veggies…

      Actually, there are some modern versions with veggies (ie, the usual ‘trinity’ of onions, carrots and celery, plus some with tomatoes) but I think it’s always best to present the original first, then branch out into the variations…

  9. PolaM

    Peposo must be one of my favorite stews! It is so savory and spicy. Just delicious!

  10. ciaochowlinda

    Frank – I never heard that about the furnace workers. One of the reasons I love your blog is the history you provide along with the recipes. And this recipe looks terrific.

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