Winter means it’s Time for Soup!

It’s dark and cold outside as Lulu and I walk home after buying Christmas presents at Arezzo’s darling holiday mercato which just set-up this weekend.

Under a canopy of white, Italian leather purses  hang next to another kiosk which features fluffy robes and slippers.

“I want some new ciabatte,” Lulu cajoles.  “I don’t care if they’re not the right size,” she adds noticing that all the slippers on display are clearly for full-grown women.

We buy what we came for (not slippers/ciabatte) and trek up the steep Via Madonna del Prato up to our home.  Inside, we’re met by the savory aroma of the soup I made earlier this afternoon.  Scotty has been watching over it as it simmered. Making sure it didn’t dry out or burn – so hopefully it will taste as good as it smells right now.

It does!

The photo doesn’t do this justice: I promise this soup was amazingly delicious!

And since I am one of those people who rarely uses a recipe when I cook, I was so pleased with the flavor of tonight’s winter stew, I am going to write it down before I forget what I put in.  Hopefully I can make it again – and also successfully share its secrets with you!  Okay, so, I’ll call this:

Mamma Gina’s Hearty Rich Winter Beef Stew

1 pound of beef stew meat – chopped small (I have no idea if it was really a pound since beef here is, of course, sold by the kilo. About a couple of handfuls of cubed beef anyway.)

4 medium potatoes chunkily diced

2 carrots sliced

1 onion diced

2 minced cloves of garlic

2 stalks of celery sliced

5 or 6 mushrooms chopped

4 or 5 small plum tomatoes chopped

5 or 6 bay leaves

1T flour

1 bouillon cube (No,  I rarely make my own stock – shame, I know. Here in Italy, I use “Classico” bouillon cubes – they seem pretty chickeny actually)

5 cups or so of water.  This will need some monitoring.

2 T balsamic vinegar

2 T Worcestershire sauce.  (Yes, I get this here in Italy. Love it.)

2 T sugar

1 T coarse salt

1 T cinnamon (really!)

Red pepper flakes – a shake or two of the spice jar – depends on your personal spicy meter)

Black pepper and dried parsley flakes to taste

2 or 3 glugs of olive oil

All righty, that may seem like a lot of ingredients, but I just used what was in the fridge and the cupboards tonight.

First, I coated a large, deep pot with oil and tossed in the beef with the flour and stirred it up.  I then wantonly tossed in the rest of the ingredients.   Just like that.  I stirred it all up  – letting the onions and potatoes and carrots wilt a tad with the flame on pretty low – but I didn’t worry about it.

After about ten minutes, I added enough water to cover everything up – and brought the brew to a boil.  Immediately after it began to boil, I turned it down to a simmer, helped Lulu put on her coat – and went shopping!

Scotty manned the stove for the next two hours – adding a bit of water as needed and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent burning.  By the time Lulu and I returned home, as I mentioned, the soup smelled delicious.  The meat was amazingly tender and the potatoes had thickened up the broth to a velvety texture.

Honestly, the layers of flavors in this stew are really something.  I sliced up some Tuscan bread and Lulu sopped up nearly everything in her bowl.

Cold winter night coming up? Don’t worry, now you can have my stew – and eat it too!

Baci, Gina