There are probably few dishes that are more comforting than a beef stew on a cold winter night.
The recipe for this medieval beef stew flavoured with black peppercorns hasn’t changed much since the fifteenth century when it was concocted for the first time. Many cities in Tuscany claim the ownership of this dish, but it was probably in Impruneta, south of Florence that it saw the light of day.
It was apparently popular among tile workers who cooked this stew in a terra-cotta pot in the kiln overnight with the remaining heat, the same kiln used to bake the tiles that will later be used to cover the Duomo in Florence.
Black peppercorns were used in this dish, I am told, to cover the taste of not so fresh meat that was available then. Now, I should hope, we use it for flavour only.
A peposo differs from other stews in a few ways: it does not start with a soffritto and you do not sear the meat in oil. The beauty of this stew is that it is quite forgiving. You can omit the wine altogether and vary the proportions according to your liking, and the taste will not suffer much.
You can use as much or as little garlic as you want, quantities varying from 1 clove to an entire head of garlic. Also, use as much peppercorns as you like. I have seen anything from one to four tablespoons. Take the time to crush the peppercorns in a mortar. They should not be too fine. I find that the proportions given below work best for me.
Tomatoes are not included in this dish because they were introduced in Italy much later, in the 16th century.
Beef and black peppercorn stew
1 kg stewing beef, cut into 2.5 cm/1 inch cubes
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 level tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed (not ground)
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cup red wine
1. Preheat the oven to 275 F.
2. Put all the ingredients in a terra-cotta pot or a dutch oven, mix well and cover tightly.
3. Cook, covered, for 5 hours without peeking.
4. If there is too much liquid at the end, reduce it over medium heat.
5. Serve warm with soft polenta or with crusty bread.