Peposo – A Fiery Love Story
Peposo simmering in the pot
I love simple dishes. Many simple dishes come to us from medieval times – though they may sometimes use ingredients that are no longer easy to find, most dishes in the 12th century used bread, meat, fish, veggies – just as we do today, only differently, because – half a millennium and more!! And they were often quite simple, particularly if they were dishes of the people.
People learned clever ways to make inexpensive cuts of meat tender and delicious and ways to use spices to enhance that flavor.
One of my favorite old dishes is peposo – Tuscan pepper stew. Peposo is sometimes called Tuscany’s answer to chili. It’s a rich, savory stew that emphasizes simplicity of preparation and long slow cooking. This particular dish also emphasizes lots and lots and lots of black pepper, both cracked and ground. Sometimes, it is said, pepper was used so liberally to disguise a cut of meat that may have gone off a bit.
That’s not what we’re doing here.
The dish originated in the 13th century and is documented as having fed the laborers working to create tiles – an incredible-for-the-time 4,000,000 terracotta tiles – for the dome, or Duomo, of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence (1420-1436).
Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral – the Duomo – Home of “The Original” Peposa
These workers were not wealthy, and used a cheap cut of meat that – I *think* – is today known as the shank. I didn’t have a shank when I made this dish, so I cut up a piece of chuck roast and it worked beautifully. I think any cut of beef like the shank or beef short ribs, boned, or skirt steak, or shin, would work just beautifully in this dish. It is definitely fun to experiment!
The first time I made Peposo, I followed the recipe closely and was pretty sure I was going to fry everybody’s esophagus. Except, of course, mine, as I am immune (gasp, wheeze!).
I was delighted to find that the large quantities of black pepper called for in the recipe just melted into the dish, which ended up peppery but not overly so, and entirely delicious.
So, of course, I tried using a bit more pepper – particularly the cracked pepper – and it was wonderful.
I’ve made a few other modifications to this dish so check out the recipe below – this is a different kind of beef stew and I think you’ll like it. The Italian workers certainly did!!
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