This recipe, from my book Flavors of Tuscany (1998), comes from Dario Cecchini, the internationally famous butcher of Panzano, a village just off the highway through the heart of the Chianti country between Florence and Siena. It is meltingly tender and savory with the quantities of black pepper that season it. Simple but tasty (like most things on the Tuscan table), it was prepared, Dario said, by the masons who worked on Brunelleschi’s landmark dome for Santa Maria del Fiore, the great duomo of Florence. If that is true, they surely didn’t use tomatoes, which didn’t come into general use in Tuscany until the 19thcentury. (The dome was erected in 1436.) Others say the recipe comes from Impruneta, south of Florence on the Arno, a famous center for ceramic production. During the long nights of tending the kilns in which were fired the huge orci, jars for storing olive oil and grain, the workers would prepare the dish to stave off their hunger.
Whichever version of the story is correct (maybe all, maybe none), it’s the kind of simple, meaty dish you could expect from a bunch of guys, cooking together while they pursue their craft. It needs long, slow cooking in an oven or on the stovetop if necessary, but at their merest simmer. It’s best of all cooked in a wood-burning oven but few are the lucky people who possess such luxury. Traditionally, it’s served over crusts of slightly stale country-style bread to absorb the meat juices.
The peposo in the photo was served at the Trattoria da Giovanna, just outside Arezzo on the road to Ancona. There the cook makes it the very old-fashioned way, with no tomatoes. If you want to leave out the tomatoes, increase the wine to 1 cup./
This will make 4 to 6 servings.
- 2 pounds lean beef stew meat, preferably from the shank, in pieces
- 10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- At least 2 tablespoons freshly crushed (not ground) black pepper, or more if you wish
- 1½ cups drained whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped.
- ½ cup robust red wine, preferably Chianti
- Sea salt to taste
Set the oven on 275ºF.
Combine all the ingredients except the salt in a heavy pot, terracotta or enameled cast iron preferably. Cover the pot and set it in the oven. (Alternatively, put it on the stovetop over very low heat, using a flame tamer.) Let cook for 10 to 12 hours, very, very gently, so that the liquid in the pot just barely simmers. If the liquid starts to cook away, add boilingwater (this is important) from time to time. At the end of the cooking time, the meat should have almost dissolved into a rich and creamy sauce. Toward the end, taste anhd add salt if you wish.
Serve immediately, over lightly toasted crusts of country-style bread if you wish. Plain steamed potatoes also make a nice accompaniment.