Tuscan Tile-Makers Stew
Beef stew with pears? This Tuscan casserole is called peposo (from the word pepe for “pepper”). Its history goes back to tile makers who prepared a calderone (big pot) of stew and placed it at the mouth of the oven while they made clay tiles. The stew was left to cook for many hours, which resulted in deliciously tender meat in a beautiful sauce made with wine.
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into quarters
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 rib celery, cut in half
3 large sprigs parsley
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 whole basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons fresh marjoram
1 tablespoon fresh mint
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary needles
4 whole sage leaves
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
13/4 pounds stew beef, trimmed of all visible fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
11/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup red wine
2 cups hot beef broth
1 tablespoon whole, green peppercorns in vinegar, drained (optional)
Zest of 1 lemon
3 ripe William, Anjou or Bartlett pears
1. In a food processor or with a chef’s knife, combine and mince the carrot, onion, celery, parsley, garlic, basil, thyme, marjoram, mint, rosemary and sage. Set aside.
2. In an oven-proof 10½-inch-by-2½-inch pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and stir in the minced vegetables and herbs. Sauté them, stirring occasionally, until they soften—but do not let them brown. Transfer the mixture to a dish and set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 275°F. Dry the meat with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and, when the oil begins to shimmer, add the bay leaf and meat. Sauté the meat, turning to brown.
4. When there isn’t any more liquid in the pan, raise the heat to high, add the wine and allow it to reduce by half. Lower the heat and pour in enough of the beef broth to cover the meat.
5. Return the vegetable mixture to the pan and stir in the peppercorns (if using) and the lemon zest. Cover the pan and bake for 1 hour.
6. Peel and core the pears. Dice 2 of the pears, then cover and set them aside. Purée the remaining pear in a food processor or blender until it is smooth. Cover and set it aside.
7. Stir the puréed pear into the meat mixture. Cover the pan and bake for an additional 1½ hours, adding more broth if necessary.
8. Five minutes before the meat is cooked, remove the bay leaf and add the diced pears.
9. Serve the stew in soup bowls accompanied with crusty bread.
Note: This stew can be made ahead and refrigerated for several days.