Tuscan Tilemaker's Stew

I absolutely love food with a story, especially when it touches my family heritage. This very old Tuscan recipe is known as peposo (from the word pepe for "pepper") and its origins go back to the tilemakers who prepared big pots of stew and placed it at the mouth of the kiln-like oven called a fornace while they made tiles. They left the stew to cook for many hours, which resulted in deliciously tender meat in a beautiful sauce made with vin santo. I dare you not to be seduced by the flavors of the vin santo, pears, green peppercorns and the bright, fresh and plentiful grated lemon rind.

You can, of course, chop the herbs by hand or in a mezzaluna, but if you've got it, I recommend the food processor to make a nice uniform mixture of herbs, onion, garlic and carrot. Also, I want to pass on this handy tip to use when browning meat. Lay out all of the meat on a cookie sheet. This makes it really easy to season, then you can brown in batches right from the tray and at the end, tip all of the juices right back into the pot. This is a great gluten-free dish...no flour is used before browning the meat and the sauce is thickened with pureed pear.

Tuscan Tilemaker's Stew

This recipe serves 8. You can always halve the recipe for 4, but it reheats well so leftovers go to work and school beautifully.

2 carrots, scraped and cut into quarters
2 medium onion, peeled and quartered
2 ribs celery, cut in half
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
8 cloves garlic
8 whole basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup fresh marjoram
8 whole leaves of fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh rosemary needles
8 whole sage leaves
1/3 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 bay leaves
3 1/2 pounds stew beef, trimmed of all visible fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp fine sea salt
4 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 cup vin santo or moscato wine
4 cups hot beef broth
2 tablespoon whole green peppercorns in vinegar, drained
4 tsp. lemon zest, finely shredded
6 ripe William, Anjou, or Bartlett pears

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

In a food processor, mince together the carrot, onion, celery, parsley, garlic, basil, thyme, marjoram, mint, rosemary, and sage. Set it aside.

In an ovenproof 6 qt. Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and stir in the minced vegetables and herbs and saut them, stirring occasionally, until they soften, but do not let them brown. About 10 minutes. Transfer the ingredients to a dish and set is aside.

Dry the meat with paper towels; sprinkle the meat 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 in three batches and saut , turning the meat frequently to brown it. When there is no 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 the beef broth to cover the meat. Return the vegetable mixture to the pan and stir in the peppercorns and the lemon zest. Cover the pan and bake in the oven for 1 hour.

Peel and core 2 of the pears. Puree pears in a food processor or blender until smooth. Stir the pureed pear into the meat mixture when you remove it after the first hour. Cover the pot again and bake for an additional 1 1/2 hours, adding more broth if necessary. Five minutes before the meat is done, remove the bay leaf, peel and dice the remaining 4 pears and the diced pears to the pot.

Serve immediately. This stew can also be refrigerated for several days.