Life can be very kind with its surprises and one of them, for me, was the fairly recent discovery of a Sardinian shepherd making fantastic ricotta, primosale and pecorino cheeses within easy driving, if not walking, distance of where we live.
I bought some for Elena too one day (Elena who hails from Roumania) and she just marvelled at the texture and the taste of this ricotta: “beautiful, soooo good, just like our ricotta in Roumania!” What she meant, I suppose, since I have never tasted Roumanian ricotta, is that the ‘other’ kinds of ricotta that one buys in supermarkets lag tastelessly or blandly behind. Anyway, there I was one day buying some of this delectable ricotta when I discovered from the charming shepherd’s wife Louisa (who is Russian! … so we have a Sardinian shepherd married to a Russian making ricotta and other cheeses south of Rome … don’t you just love it!) … I discovered that they also sold mutton. And just like that, for no reason other than curiousity (which is possibly the best reason), I bought some. Nearly 5 kg’s worth because they only sell in bulk.
It was only when I got home that I took on the starker consequences of my hasty decision … what on earth was I going to do with 5 kg of mutton? So what else could I do except put it in the freezer, to await a ‘proper’ occasion for feasting. Which occasion happily showed up a few weeks later, at a communal dinner with friends at the end of July.
I looked up a few recipes for ‘castrato’ which is the Italian for mutton and which has a very strong whiff to it, and very meaty and tough and nothing like Italian lamb, ‘abbacchio’ or ‘agnello’. Some recipes even recommended washing it in vinegar to tone down its meaty smell, rather as one does with wild boar. One after the other, these recipes started making me morose. I need to be happy when I am cooking and ease of execution can make a vital contribution to morale. So I resorted to the cooking process that is normally associated with Tuscany, and more specifically with Impruneta, for a slow-cooking meat stew called ‘peposo’ — which means ‘peppery’ — that calls for red wine and lots of pepper in a terracotta stew pot. If the peposo treatment worked for beef, why wouldn’t it work for mutton? was my supposition. Anything for an easy life …
The mutton on the left, garlic and pepper in the terracotta stew pot, tomato sauce in the background.
Look at the colour of this mutton!
Lots of garlic … lots of peppercorns …
Sprinkle a lot of salt and mill a lot of white pepper.
Drown the meat in fresh tomato sauce (if you haven’t got fresh, mash up canned plum tomatoes).
Give it a good stir so that all the ingredients can get well acquainted with one another.
Turn on the heat … and let it simmer for about 2 hours. Keep an eye on it and stir now and then.
After two hours have elapsed, it’s time to add a bottle of red wine. A Chianti is what one would use for the classic Peposo — but a) I didn’t have a Chianti at home and b) I thought I’d go for something milder for the mutton.
Pour it all in and let the stew cook for another one hour. Taste the stew … add more salt, or more pepper … I added a bay leaf at this juncture (sorry no photo) to give it a little more ‘ooomph’ factor, and it worked very well thankfully.
I feel a bit sorry for stews, they rarely get rave reviews … maybe it’s because there is not much one can do about playing around with their appearance on a plate. A stew is a stew is a stew and recoils in horror from any form of froufrou embellishment.
With this stew, it was a case of what you see is what you get — and what you see in this post is what a nice group of people ate to their heart’s content, aided and abetted by crusty bread from Lariano and, amongst others, Nero di Vite red wine from Giovanni Vagnoni’s Le Caniette in the Marche.
Not much to look at but — good. Succulent. Earthy. Honest. Rich.