Legendary Dishes | Salsa Peposa (Roman-era sauce)


This Roman sauce was revived by Giovan Francesco Rustici and his Company of the Cauldron in Florence in the early decades of the 1500s. In the centuries that followed the peposa could be found at the high tables of the aristocracy. And, living up to its schizophrenic reputation, was served with meat that needed a strong sauce.

Some might say the quantity of herbs and spices is excessive, but the strong pepper taste and the aromatic herb flavour are the reasons why it has endured.

Honey and garum (or a fish condiment like Colatura di Alici) add sweetness and saltiness.

These days peposa sauce is served with game meat. It also works well with beef, especially whole cuts.

This is the basic sauce, with the emphasis on onions and peppercorns. Wine is the essential ingredient.

  • 750 ml Montepulciano D’Abruzzo red wine
  • 500 g red onions, sliced
  • 50 g black peppercorns
  • 10 bay leaves
  • 30 g flour (optional)

Place ingredients in a large heavy-based pot, simmer over a very low heat for 24 hours. Strain liquid, make a gravy with the flour, or not, depending on your needs. Serve with game meat.

Peposa alla Fornacina

This is an adaptation of a peposa recipe by Giuseppe Alessi at the La Pentola dell’Oro in Florence.

  • 1 kg beef, whole piece
  • 750 ml Montepulciano D’Abruzzo red wine
  • 500 g red onions, chopped
  • 250 g celery, chopped
  • 250 ml olive oil
  • 75 g black peppercorns 
  • 1 pear, chopped
  • 50 ml fish sauce (optional)
  • 30 g juniper berries
  • 25 g lovage, chopped
  • 25 g rosemary 
  • 1 lemon, peel 
  • 10 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 nutmeg, grated
  • 1 tsp coarse salt (optional, omit if using fish sauce)

Sauté celery, garlic and onions in oil in a large pot over a medium heat for 15 minutes. Add juniper berries, lemon peel and rosemary.

Brown the beef on all sides in this oily mixture, about three minutes each side. Add nutmeg, peppercorns, fish sauce or salt and wine.

Simmer covered over a low heat for three hours. Strain liquid, leave meat to rest. Add pear to liquid, cook until it begins to thicken.

Cut beef into thick slices.

Serve with the gravy and mashed potatoes.