My butcher's recipe for peposo creates a meltingly tender stew, made more interesting by the quantities of black pepper that season it. This simple but very tasty dish - the butcher says - was prepared by the masons who worked on Brunelleschi's landmark dome for Santa Maria del Fiore the great duomo of Florence, but if so, they surely didn't use tomatoes, which didn't come into general use in Tuscany until the nineteenth century. (The dome was erected in 1436, long before tomatoes came from the New World to Europe.) Tuscan food authority Leo Codacci says peposo originated in Impruneta south of Florence on the Arno, a famous center for terra-cotta production. During the long nights of tending the Impruneta kilns in which the huge orci, terra-cotta jars for storing oil and grain, were fired, Codacci says, the kiln-burners would prepare the dish to stave off hunger pangs. Others claim it comes from the Pistoiese, north of the Arno, and even from the Versilia, over on the coast south of La Spezia.
Whichever version is right (possibly all, possibly none), it's the kind of simple, meaty dish one would expect from a bunch of guys cooking together while they pursue their craft. It requires long (very long), slow (very slow) baking in an oven or atop the stove on the lowest possible fire just barely simmering is the idea. If you must add water during the cooking, make sure it is boiling water in order not to reduce the temperature too much. An electric slowcooker might make an ideal replacement for an old-fashioned wood-fired oven. Traditionally, peposo is served over crusts of slightly stale country bread to absorb the meat juices, but it's also very good with steamed new potatoes, another New World import. You could even serve it with pasta, to yield twice as many portions. This is called peposo because of the pepper, which should be used with great generosity.
2 pounds very lean beef stew meat, preferably from the shank, cut in large pieces
10 whole cloves garlic, peeled
An abundance of freshly crushed (not ground) black pepper - at least 2 Ts, or more if you wish