On the release of the new Brutto cookbook, author and restaurateur Russell Norman spoke to Club Oenologique about the appeal of Tuscany’s rustic cuisine. Here, he shares three recipes featured in the book, including a rich stew made from a cheap cut of beef, a crowd-pleasing classic of a dessert and the vodka-infused pasta that punters struggle to resist at Brutto – Norman’s latest restaurant and the book’s namesake – in Farringdon, London.
Beef-shin and peppercorn stew (Peposo)
Russell Norman: ‘The classic Florentine beef stew. It’s a dish of extremely deep flavours and comforting textures. But it’s not a preparation that can be rushed. You need at least four hours, preferably more, and – as with many Tuscan recipes – it is improved by leaving it overnight. I’d love to be able to say you can use an alternative cut if you can’t get hold of beef shin, but it really must be shin. And you must leave the fat on – do not be tempted to trim. Your butcher will always be able to provide shin, even if your supermarket can’t.
Recipe (serves four)
- 100g lard (or butter if you’re afraid of lard)
- 800g beef shin, cut into small chunks
- Flaky sea salt
- 1 bottle of Chianti or Sangiovese
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
- Black pepper
- Sourdough bread, for serving
Melt half the lard in a very large frying pan and sear the meat on all sides until nicely browned. Add a few pinches of salt during this process. You may need to fry in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. If there is a dark residue at the bottom of the frying pan, deglaze with a splash of red wine. When all the shin is brown, transfer to a very large saucepan in which you have melted the remaining lard. Add the sliced garlic and the peppercorns, and stir for one minute. Now add the chopped tomatoes and the rest of the wine. Bring to the boil briefly, then reduce to a very low simmer.
For the next four hours, keep half an eye on your peposo to make sure it’s not drying out too quickly. If it is, cover it, but the full bottle of wine should have been sufficient to keep it stew-like. After four hours, check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. The beef shin will have disintegrated somewhat and become stringy and soft. You can encourage this further with some hearty wooden-spoon action. If it hasn’t, leave it longer. Or you could let it cool and leave it covered overnight. Then give it another 30 minutes on a medium heat the next day.
Serve with hunks of sourdough or unsalted Tuscan bread.
Penne with vodka and tomato sauce (Penne alla vodka)
RN: ‘I first had this dish at cult restaurant Alla Vecchia Bettola, on a busy corner by a main road on the outskirts of Oltrarno, in Florence. It’s one of those slightly kitsch recipes that were popular in the 1980s and that have been enjoying something of a revival in Italy and now even in New York. Despite the potentially gimmicky nature of the addition of vodka, it works exceptionally well and is a favourite at Brutto. Most supermarket penne are rigate – with ridges. However, penne lisce – smaller and without ridges – make for a much more authentic version of this dish.’
Recipe (serves four)
- 2 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Flaky sea salt
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 200ml vodka
- 320g dried penne lisce (or penne rigate if you can’t find the smooth variety)
- 4 tablespoons double cream
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar
- 100g grated Parmesan
Drain the tomatoes, reserving the juice for another purpose.
Place a large ovenproof saucepan over a low to medium heat, and gently sauté the onion in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of salt for 12–15 minutes until glossy and translucent, being careful not to let the onion brown. Add the garlic, chilli flakes and oregano, and combine, stirring for a few more minutes. Pour in the vodka, increase the heat a little to bring to a very gentle bubble, and cook until the liquid has reduced by a third.
Preheat the oven to 140°C.
Now add the drained tomatoes to the saucepan with a good pinch of salt and continue to boil gently for one or two minutes, until the oven is ready. Transfer the saucepan to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 30–40 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and has coloured a little on top.
Meanwhile, cook the penne in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain the pasta. Remove the tomatoes from the oven, and add the double cream, sugar and half the Parmesan. Using a stick blender, create a smooth sauce. Immediately add the cooked penne and stir until fully combined.
Adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve in four warmed bowls, with the remaining Parmesan on the table.
RN: ‘Probably the most famous of all Italian desserts, tiramisù is only a recent addition to the canon. Most agree it was invented in the 1970s at Le Beccherie restaurant in Treviso by Ado Campeol and his wife Alba di Pillo. However, Tuscans claim the recipe (if not the name) was their creation as early as the 17th century, when the dish was served to Grand Duke Cosimo III in Siena. You need to make tiramisù at least four hours before you want to serve it.’
Recipe (serves eight)
- 500ml strong coffee
- 50ml brandy
- 4 large free-range eggs
- 150g caster sugar
- 10ml Marsala
- 500g mascarpone
- A packet of Savoiardi sponge fingers
- Cocoa powder, for dusting
First, make your coffee, using a strong espresso variety in a large stove-top Bialetti moka-style coffee maker. Leave it to cool in a large jug, adding the brandy and 100ml of cold water.
Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in one large mixing bowl and the whites in another. Whisk the egg whites vigorously until they start to stiffen. Add half the sugar and continue to whisk energetically until the mix is firm but still glossy.
Clean the whisk and do the same to the yolks, adding the rest of the sugar when the volume starts to increase. Continue whisking until the yolks have doubled in size. Add the Marsala and whisk for another two to three minutes. Add half the mascarpone, whisk for two minutes, then add the other half and whisk for two minutes more until firm.
Using a wooden spoon, gently and slowly fold the egg whites into the yolks without beating or stirring. A folding action from bottom to top and from the sides to the centre is very important so as not to overwork the mixture.
Begin to dip the sponge fingers into the cold coffee mixture – no more than three seconds: they must not disintegrate. Lay the soaked sponge fingers in a single layer on the bottom of a large, high-sided ceramic or glass tray (around 30 × 20cm). Cover generously with the egg mixture – around 2cm.
Do the same again with another layer of sponge fingers and top those with a final layer of the remaining egg mix. Don’t worry if you haven’t used all the sponge fingers from a single packet – you can keep them until next time. Finally, dust a liberal layer of cocoa powder on top, completely covering the tiramisù, and place the tray in the fridge for at least four hours.
Cut the tiramisù into large squares and serve on individual plates.