Tuscan beef stew (peposo), a stew made by the tilemakers of Florence’s famous Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral Duomo, is a simple stew of beef braised in wine, with loads of peppercorns and a head of garlic cloves. My interest was piqued!
But Cooks Illustrated added their magic and improved the texture and flavor without veering too far from the original, by adding tomato paste and anchovies for meatiness, powdered gelatin for body, and shallots, carrots, and herbs for complexity. The sauce was so velvety smooth with luscious layers of flavor that Russ and I fast-tracked the recipe to top-shelf status.
Though we made two very notable changes. First, the directions indicate to brown only half of the meat cubes. Why in the world would you do that? We seared them all. Secondly, we could not in good faith toss the veggies and garlic that simmered in that scrumptious sauce for hours so when the stew was done cooking in the oven, we saved them to a foil covered platter while finishing the sauce. In fact, I doubled the carrots from two large to four, producing 8 halves as a side dish with an accompaniment of cheesy polenta. Not a polenta fan? Try garlicky mashed potatoes or egg noodles.
Cooks Illustrated prefers boneless short ribs in the Tuscan-Style Beef Stew because they require very little trimming—however, they only carried bone-in short ribs at our supermarket the day we shopped. If you cannot find the boneless ones, do what we did and substitute a chuck roast. (The directions say to substitute a 5-pounder, but ours was less than 3 pounds, and was plenty sufficient for two people, with leftovers.) Trim the roast of large pieces of fat and sinew, and cut it into 2-inch pieces. If Chianti is unavailable, a medium-bodied wine such as Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir makes a nice substitute.
To ensure a full-bodied wine flavor, add some wine at the beginning of the long braise, more before reducing the sauce, and a small amount at the end. And do the same with the peppercorns: cracked pepper at the start, ground pepper toward the end, and more cracked pepper on serving. By adding some of the wine and pepper 15 minutes before finishing cooking, and the remainder of wine and pepper at the end, you are able to preserve more of the volatile and unstable compounds, capturing the most fleeting, bright, fresh flavors from both the wine and the pepper. Brilliant!
No need to be a wine snob and waste an expensive bottle of wine here, save that for yourself to drink with dinner. Cooks Illustrated said the stew made with the cheapest Chianti went over well with taste testers, and there was no discernible difference when using a pricey wine. We used a cheap Cabernet Sauvignon from Trader Joe’s—you know their “3-Buck Chuck” brand—and the sauce turned out divine!
Tuscan-Style Beef Stew
- 4 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 (750-ml) bottle Chianti
- 1 cup water
- 4 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
- 2 carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
- 1 garlic head, cloves separated, unpeeled, and crushed
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns, plus extra for serving
- 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
Salted, cubed meat sits for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Carrots are sliced horizontally, shallots are cut in half, and garlic cloves are smashed, leaving the skins on.
Working in two separate batches, we browned all of the beef cubes.
Most of the remaining ingredients are added to the pot before going into a 300 degree oven.
After 2 1/4 hours, the pot is removed from the oven and the beef cubes are extracted from the stew.
- Toss beef and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt together in bowl and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.
- Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of beef in single layer and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total, reducing heat if fond begins to burn.
- Stir in 2 cups wine, water, shallots, carrots, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, cracked peppercorns, gelatin, tomato paste, anchovy paste, and remaining beef. Bring to simmer and cover tightly with sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, then lid. Transfer to oven and cook until beef is tender, 2 to 2 1/4 hours, stirring halfway through cooking time.
- Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to bowl; cover tightly with foil and set aside. Strain sauce through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator. Wipe out pot with paper towels. Let liquid settle for 5 minutes, then return defatted liquid to pot.
- Add 1 cup wine and ground black pepper and bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened to consistency of heavy cream, 12 to 15 minutes.
- Combine remaining wine and cornstarch in small bowl. Reduce heat to medium-low, return beef to pot, and stir in cornstarch-wine mixture. Cover and simmer until just heated through, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve, passing extra cracked peppercorns separately. (Stew can be made up to 3 days in advance.)
Even though the directions don’t indicate to save the carrots, shallots and garlic, we plated them and covered with foil until the rest of the dinner was ready.
The sauce is drained through a fine mesh strainer into a fat separator. However, as you can see, there was barely any fat to remove from our sauce.
Corn starch is mixed with the last of the wine and added to the sauce before returning the meat back into the pot.
After the sauce has thickened with the addition of the corn starch mixture, add the beef back in and simmer for another 8 minutes.
The carrots, shallots and garlic made a great side dish for the stew and polenta.