Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recipe: Peposo Notturno, “Nocturnal Pepperiness” Beef Stew

When those waiters ask me if I want some fresh ground pepper, I ask if they have any aged pepper. – Andy Rooney 

Florence Cathedral. Photo: Boreio Selas, Flickr ccl
There’s a story associated with this one. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but let’s pretend it is.

It’s the early 1400s in Florence Italy. You’re a mason working on an engineering marvel – the dome on the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (in English known as Florence Cathedral).

Your co-workers who make the tiles for the dome have an overnight recipe that uses the cooling kilns to cook their next day’s meals. Since it has lots of pepper and takes overnight to cook it gets the name Peposo Notturno.

Here’s another part of the story. The dome’s architect, Brunelleschi, wants to get as much work out of you as possible. It takes time for you to climb down to eat dinner. He figures to save that time he’ll deliver your dinner up to the dome for you. It doesn’t take long for you to realized that you’re losing your lunch break, so you go on “strike.”

Maybe true, maybe not. Regardless, the recipe in question is stunning in its taste and simplicity.

OMG this was good (especially if you like garlic and lots of pepper...)
This recipe proves that with a few basic ingredients you can create something absolutely amazing. This is literally meat, salt, pepper, wine and garlic. That’s it. Mind you, it’s a lot of pepper and a lot of garlic.

All the recipes for this stew call for an 8-hour cooking time. I’ve shortened it to 3-1/2. I let the stew simmer for 3 hours one evening. Serving night I let it simmer for a further 1/2 hour while the potatoes boiled before being mashed.

Wine works wonders on meat, especially that much wine. Since I cut the cooking time in half I also cut the wine in half from the overnight version, so you have enough leftover for a glass or two. I’m sure the shorter time renders a slightly different result, but by three hours the meat had already fallen from the bone. That ‘s a good sign.

If you wish a thicker sauce you can add some tomato paste, but that’s not original to the recipe. Remember tomatoes weren’t introduced to Europe until nearly a century after this recipe was in common use.

My mashed potatoes aren’t original either (potatoes – South America), and come to think of it neither would be polenta (corn – Central America) since the main ingredients wouldn’t be part of European cuisine until nearly 1500 as well.

I wonder what they would have used for “side dishes” in the 1400s?

Peposo Notturno
Time: 3.5 hrs  |  Serves: supposedly 4, but 2 at my table…
1 tbsp olive oil
2 beef shanks
3 tbsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp sea salt (I had Celtic hanging around so used that)
3 whole heads of garlic
1/2 bottle decent Italian red wine

Put everything in a pot. Cover and cook for 3.5 hours.

After the 3.5 hours remove the meat and reserve. You will note it has been dyed a deep burgundy colour from the wine.

Squeeze the garlic cloves from the bulbs and discard the skins. Whisk the garlic together with the remaining wine and pepper. Bring to a boil. 

Then add the beef back into the pot and heat through.

Serve with warm polenta or mashed potatoes drizzled with the garlic pepper sauce.


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  1. hi...i know this seems weird since you no longer blog but i really want to make this recipe and i can't find where you mention what kind of beef you use? i hope things are fine with you and that you just quit blogging. i always loved your posts!

  2. Hi Jaz,

    Better late than never for a rely I guess. I have been thinking seriously about starting up my blog again, Thank you for your kind words. The beef I use is "beef shanks" (a portion of the leg with bone-in) but use whatever you can get your hands on that isn't lean. You need the fat to break down over long, slow cooking to make the meat super tender. Hope to be dropping into your notifications soon.