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Alessio Pesucci's Peposo - A Tuscan Answer to Chili

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Alessio Pesucci's peposo

Alessio Pesucci's peposo

(C) Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com
A couple of years ago I watched Chef Cristoforo, of Impruneta's Albergo Ristorante Bellavista, make peposo, the peppery beef stew the tile makers of Impruneta used to cook in their kilns, and that Brunelleschi, the architect who built the octagonal dome of Florence's Cathedral, fell in love with. Chef Cristoforo's peposo regularly wins Impruneta's peposo cookoff, and it is very good. However, his recipe is modern, with tomatoes Brunelleschi would not have encountered, as he lived before 1492.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 4 hours, 20 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 7 1/4 pounds (3.2 k) boned beef shank (buy it boned)
  • 6 teaspoons (15 g) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ounce (about half a head) of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
  • 2 bottles Chianti (other tannic dry reds will work)
  • 6 bay leaves
  • Finely sliced Tuscan bread, toasted

Preparation:

Continuing with the introduction:
Chef Alessio Pesucci, of the Locanda del Gallo in nearby Chiocchio chooses to follow the older traditions, with equally good though different results. He also uses a different meat, boned beef shank (what is ossobucco if it's cut crosswise with the bone, from a smaller animal), and cooks it for hours to allow the gristle to soften and produce a delightfully satiny texture. Finally, he uses considerably less ground pepper than Chef Cristoforo, 5 grams per kilo of meat (this is about 2 teaspoons per kilo, or a little less than a teaspoon per pound).

I watched Alessio make his peposo in the course of a cooking lesson, and his quantities are more substantial: in theory the recipe will serve 10, though if your diners are hearty the most it will feed is 5-6, because they will demand seconds. This recipe works best if made a day ahead and reheated come serving time, because the flavors have more time to meld. You'll need the above ingredients.

Cube the meat into fairly large pieces, weighing a couple of ounces each. Put them in a pot with the pepper, garlic, and salt, and heat over a medium flame, turning occasionally, until the meat has browned and almost all the water it gives off upon being heated has been reabsorbed -- for this volume of meat figure close to an hour. Add enough wine to submerge the meat by an inch (2.5 cm) or so; if the wine is not enough add warm water or broth -- Alessio used vegetable, but meat will work, as will unsalted bouillon. Add the bay leaves, cover, and simmer over a very gentle flame for at least 4 hours, giving the pot a stir every now and then.

When the time is up, let the meat cool and remove it to a bowl, leaving the liquid in the pot. Cover the meat and refrigerate both the meat and the liquid in the pot (you could put the liquid in a second bowl to save space if need be). The next morning a layer of congealed fat will have risen to cover the surface of the liquid. Remove and discard this fat, and return both the liquid and the meat to the pot to reheat it before serving it.

The standard Tuscan way to serve peposo is with slices of toasted bread, and Alessio also adds pears simmered in white wine. For the above peposo you'll need:
  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) firm pears, quartered and cored
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • Put the pears in a pot, sprinkle the wine and lemon juice over them, add a little warm water, and cook them over a medium flame for 5 minutes.

    The contrast between pears and peposo is quite pleasant.

    Another way to serve peposo would be with polenta, and I might make some spinachi rifatti (spinach recooked with garlic) too.

    A final note: Alessio says not to use more than a teaspoon of ground pepper per pound of meat. This yields a mild, flavorful peposo that my father-in-law would enjoy (he had a hard time with Cristoforo's). If you're more of a chilihead, feel free to increase the ground black pepper, though I would hesitate to more than triple it. And for another interesting effect, you could use a mixture of ground pepper and whole peppercorns, which have more spice and less heat.

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