by Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
The spicy and tasty stew of Impruneta, a town at the gates of Florence renowned for its excellent production of terracotta, has a history linked to the construction of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, also known as the Duomo (Dome).
The Impruneta terracotta was used for the construction of the tiles and bricks of the dome. The process involved many workers who had to cook bricks and tiles night and day. These workers and artisans needed substantial and convenient dishes, so they fed themselves with the less precious cuts of beef cooked directly at the workplace in the same ovens used to make terracotta.
The terracotta casseroles, full of stew, were placed at the entrance of the kilns and then slow cooked in wine to make the poor cuts tender and tasty. The meat, which was often not very fresh, was spiced—to mask the smell—with grains of pepper. This was how the tasty recipe of “peposo” (peppery) was born, which even then was served with plenty of wine from Chianti.
During the construction of the Dome, architect Filippo Brunelleschi faced a logistical problem: the workers went down from the scaffolds to have lunch in the nearby taverns, always coming back late and very tipsy, causing a slowdown in productivity. This, Brunelleschi did not tolerate. So, after tasting peposo from the employees of the kilns and appreciating the taste, Brunelleschi decided to set up the first factory canteen at the construction site—directly on the scaffolding! He hoisted earthenware jars with wine and peposo to save time and work.
The peposo, therefore, has contributed substantially to the construction of the Duomo, feeding the workers. In the absence of kilns, this traditional recipe is very simple and robust. It is excellent baked in the oven, but it is necessary to respect the long cooking times in the wine to soften and flavor the meat.
1 kg stew beef, including some gristle
4 garlic cloves
2 tbs olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper
1 bottle of red Chianti
Cut the beef into large chunks and place them into the bottom of a terracotta pot with olive oil and rosemary.
Add the peeled garlic cloves. Sprinkle the whole with peppercorns and salt.
Pour over red wine to cover the beef. Cover the pot and place in oven at 324° F for 1 hour or more, until the beef is falling apart tender and the red wine has reduced into a rich sauce.