Peposo: Tuscan Red Wine Beef Stew. | Marc Fosh

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I was reading a classic Italian cookbook last week and immediately decided I just had to cook some of the simple, full flavoured recipes from the book and i was not dissapointed…they were truly delicious.

When we think of Mediterranean food, we normally associate it simple, clean tastes, exotic combinations of herbs and spices and the intense flavours of sun-drenched fruit and vegetables. But there is another side to Mediterranean cookery full of wonderful comfort food that’s big on flavour including robust soups, casseroles, hot pots and stews, cooked slowly to create memorable dishes that are also economical. Sometimes called peasant food or cucina povera (cuisine of the poor), stewing and braising are the basics of good home cooking and nothing beats all those fabulous aromas floating around the kitchen whileyour lunch is slowly cooking.

I tried a wonderful dish called Fagioli all’uccelletto, originating from Tuscany. It’s made with a combination of cannellini beans, sage leaves, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, tomato paste, and fresh pork sausages. The beans and sausages are simmered over a low flame, then served with bread on the side.

I also cooked Trippa alla Romana, a classic Roman dish made by stewing tripe in a tart tomato sauce along with finely chopped fresh herbs. I finished the dish off by topping it with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and it was delicious. But my favourite was Peposo, a traditional Tuscan Beef Stew originating from Florence. It truly is the simplest stew you’ll ever make yet it has so much flavour. Made with garlic, lots of black pepper and a whole bottle of red wine (chianti) it was the perfect winter warmer served with delicious, creamy polenta.

The meat becomes incredibly tender as the flavours mingle. Make sure that the stew never boils as it should be braised at low temperatures. So take your time, be patient and you will be richly rewarded with tender, succulent meat, deep flavours and some amazing aromas.

Peposo: Tuscan Red Wine Beef Stew

Serves 6-8

  • 1.5kl stewing beef
  • 125g streaky bacon (diced)
  • 20 baby onions or shallots (peeled)
  • 2tbsp Tomato puree
  • 1litre beef stock
  • 100g flour
  • 100m olive oil

For the marinade

  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • 1 large onion (roughly chopped)
  • 3 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 2 carrots (peeled and chopped)
  • 1tspn Allspice
  • 2tspns crushed black peppercorns
  • A sprig of fresh thyme
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary

1 Place the stewing beef in a large and add all the ingredients for the marinade. Leave in the refrigerator overnight.

2 Drain the meat from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen towel.

3 Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan and brown the stewing beef.

4 Stir in the flour and tomato puree. Add the ingredients from the marinade and cover with beef stock. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 3 hours, removing any fat and impurities that rise to the surface during the cooking.

5 Heat a little oil in small frying pan and saute the diced bacon and baby onions until golden brown

6 Stir them into the stew and cook for a further 30 minutes. Season to taste and cover again with a tight fitting lid.

7 Open the pot at the table to enjoy the wonderful aroma. Serve with creamy polenta.

Creamy polenta

  • 500ml milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 250g instant polenta 50g butter
  • 75g parmesan (or vegetarian alternative), grated

1 Bring the milk to the boil with 500ml water, the bay and thyme.

2 Turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 20 mins, then fish out the herbs and bring back to the boil.

3 Add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking steadily.

4 Cook for 1 min until thickened, then stir in the butter and Parmesan.

Coda Alla Vaccinara: Italian style oxtail in red wine

Coda Alla Vaccinara: Italian style oxtail in red wine

This classic Roman recipe asks little more from us than a little patience. I love to serve this rich stew with pureed potatoes flavoured with crème fraiche and spring onions.

Serves 4

  • 1kg oxtail, trimmed of fat and jointed
  • 4 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 leeks, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 400ml red wine
  • 600ml beef stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 can peeled Italian tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • Chopped parsley to serve

1 Preheat the oven to 150C/130C Fan/Gas 2.

2 Sprinkle the oxtail pieces with seasoned flour until the meat is well coated. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and fry the oxtail until they are well browned. Transfer to a casserole dish.

3 Add the butter to the pan and cook the onion, carrot, leeks and celery over a gentle flame until soft. Transfer to the casserole dish. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and add to the casserole with the beef stock, tomato purée, tinned tomatoes, cinnamon, thyme and the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper, put the casserole on the heat and bring to a gentle simmer (remove any impurities on the surface).

4 Cover with a lid and cook in the centre of the oven for 2½ hours. Stir after 1 hour, turning the oxtail in the sauce. The meat should be falling off the bone and the sauce should be thick. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and transfer the oxtail pieces to a plate, set aside and keep warm.

5 Skim any fat that has pooled on the surface of the sauce. Discard the bay leaf. Push the cooking liquid through a fine sieve into a clean pan and simmer over a medium heat. Season to taste. Add the oxtail, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with pureed potatoes.

Potato puree with crème fraiche & spring onions

  • 1½ Kg potatoes (waxy varities such as Desirèe or maris piper are best)
  • 100g butter
  • 3 tbsp crème fraiche
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • Seasoning

1 Peel the potatoes and cut them into even sizes so they all cook at the same time. Cook for about 12-15 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain well then return to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes over a dry heat. Mash the potatoes very thoroughly until completely lump free.

Don’t be tempted to use a food processor though, as it will make the potatoes gluey.
Gradually beat in the butter then slowly mix the crème fraiche into the potato purée with some salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and serve immediately.