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The story of Brunelleschi's Peposo beef stew

The dome of Florence Cathedral is the largest brickwork dome ever built in Europe since Roman times. It took 16 years to build, approximately 8,000,000 bricks, dozens of workers and one great master: Filippo Brunelleschi.

Brunelleschi Duomo [Photo credits: étoiles filantes]
Brunelleschi Duomo [Photo credits: étoiles filantes]
Although the exact methodology used by Brunelleschi to erect the cupola remains a mystery, we are certain that only the best materials were used, such as the Carrara marble and the Terracotta tiles from the Impruneta (in the Chianti area) 10 km from Florence.
Mario Mariani furnace in Impruneta
Mario Mariani furnace in Impruneta
Terracotta bricks from Impruneta
Terracotta bricks from Impruneta

With no time to lose and with so many tiles to fire up, labourers at Impruneta’s furnace worked morning to night. Some of them had been in charge of preparing lunch and since they had only a few coins to buy ingredients, they thought about cooking secondary meat cuts that were chopped into chunks with red wine and pepper corns in terracotta pots. The meat cooked slowly (until become tender) near the big oven. They say that Brunelleschi tried this stew and was impressed by its taste.

Terracotta vessels and statues in Impruneta
Terracotta vessels and statues in Impruneta

Meanwhile in Florence, the construction of the Cathedral’s dome continued, although slowly.To save time Brunelleschi organised a canteen on the scaffolding. It is also said that often the menu of the day was the famous peppery beef stew accompanied with slices of Tuscan unsalted bread. A power lunch!

Mario Mariani at work
Mario Mariani at work

To learn a bit more about this specialty, we travelled to Impruneta to visit one of its historical furnaces. During the grape festival in September, the town holds a culinary competition among its four districts for the title of the best peposo beef stew of the year. The County Town has even written a regulation, containing the strict ingredients and methods for preparing the dish. According to the “disciplinare,” to be commercialised as Peposo dell'Impruneta it must be made only with beef, wine, pepper, salt and optionally garlic. It is not allowed to use tomato among the ingredients.

Peposo dinner at Mario Mariani furnace
Peposo dinner at Mario Mariani furnace

Every time Mario Mariani turns on the fire in his furnace, it’s time for a big feast. Friends and family gather around a table to enjoy a dish of peposo beef stew. Mario says that pepper was needed to cover the taste of meat that probably was not fresh. You know, "they didn't have fridges."

Peposo dinner at Mario Mariani furnace
Peposo dinner at Mario Mariani furnace
Cooking Peposo beef stew
Cooking Peposo beef stew

During the very special dinner at Mariani’s furnace we met Renato Giani, an 86-year-old retired construction worker, and a peposo historical chef. “Although the official recipe doesn't contain tomatoes, I prefer to use it in my stew.

Cooking Peposo beef stew in Impruneta
Cooking Peposo beef stew in Impruneta

Brunelleschi could not add it because it had not yet arrived from the Americas. But it has been here more than 500 years, and with tomatoes, the result is superb.”

Renato Giani, peposo chef
Renato Giani, peposo chef
Here is Renato’s hereditary peposo beef stew: Ingredients - 1 kg of meat (for stew) cut in big chunks - 1 head of garlic - g of concentrated tomato paste - 100 ml water - ml of Chianti Classico wine - 5 g of pepper - Salt to taste - 200 g veal fat
Dinner is ready! Peposo beef stew and Chianti Classico wine
Dinner is ready! Peposo beef stew and Chianti Classico wine
Method - Peel the garlic, then dice in mixer - In a big pot, combine the chopped garlic and the other ingredients - Mix with a wooden spoon, cover, and then cook over low heat (stirring occasionally) for at least 3 hours until the meat becomes tender
Thanks Mario!
Thanks Mario!
[Photo credits: Flavia Cori and Costanza Giovannini, Tuscany Social Media Team]