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Peposo - A Tuscan Answer to Chili

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Peposo is a specialty of Impruneta, a town near Florence that's famous for its terracottas. It's a beef stew, and 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...

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of black pepper, coarsely ground for the occasion
  • 1 pound stew beef, cubed
  • 1 pig's foot (if you don't want to deal with a pig's foot, substitute a pound of pork or fatty beef, cubed)
  • 1 onion, minced
  • A rib of celery, minced
  • 1/2 a red pepper, minced
  • 1 carrot, minced
  • 1 pound peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine (such as Chianti)
  • 2 crushed cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Boiling water or broth
  • 4 slices of Italian bread

Preparation:

...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 building 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. Had he merely asked the cook to set up a catering stand, the idea would have been a smashing success.

If you are using the pig's foot, scrub it if need be and boil it for ten minutes. Drain it, let it cool, bone it, and cut the meat into thin strips.

Mince the onion, the carrot, and the celery; sauté the mixture in the oil in a pot over a medium flame. Add one of the cloves of garlic, some salt, and half the ground pepper. Flour the meat, and when the onion's translucent, add the meat to the pot. Let the meat brown, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, then add the tomatoes and the red pepper. Let the mixture cook for ten minutes, then add the wine and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the peposo for at least two hours, adding boiling water or broth as necessary to keep it from drying out completely and burning.

When the peposo's almost done (the sauce should be thick), toast the slices of bread and rub them with the other clove of garlic, then put them in a deep serving dish. A few minutes before removing the peposo from the fire, stir in the remaining ground pepper. Carefully pour the peposo over the bread and serve.

Serves four.

Incidentally, Impruneta still furnishes the roof tiles for Florence's Duomo. They're purchased and stored on racks out doors for 50 years, so they'll weather to the same color as the tiles they replace.

Finally, you may be wondering about what herbs Tuscans do use.

Not many; if you buy vegetables from a greengrocer and ask for odori (literally, scents), you will be given a carrot, a stalk of celery, a bunch of parsley, and a small onion. These are all vegetables, but Tuscans consider them to be herbs if minced and used sparingly as flavoring agents, for example in stews, sauces or soups. Basil often joins the list in the summer (minced and added at the very end), and some dishes call for other herbs. For example, nipitella, a variety of thyme, goes well with stewed porcini, rosemary goes well with bean soup and roasts, sage goes well with grilled or roasted meat, and fennel seeds go well with pork. However, in all cases, subtlety is the key: The herbs should bring out the flavor of the major ingredients, not overpower them.

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