Like our clothing and activities, our eating habits also change with the seasons. During the summer I live on fresh vegetables, salads and meats cooked on my outdoor grill. But with a dusting of snow on the ground and a forecast warning twelve to twenty-four inches, a salad isn’t going to warm me up. In this weather I reach for my large Dutch oven and cook huge pots of sauce with meatballs and braciole, or a pot roast, or a hearty soup.
On a cold day my mom would make a soup called zumaki, a beef and vegetable soup. Normally I didn’t like this kind of soup—and to this day I would never order any kind of vegetable soup in a deli or restaurant, but this was different. Zumaki is more like a stew, but with soup broth instead of gravy. The vegetables are not chopped into tiny pieces— carrots cut in half and quartered onions and potatoes fill the bowl.
There’s a method to eating Zumaki—a method as individual as the person devouring it. Mine is to squeeze a generous amount of lemon into my bowl and sprinkle it with extra salt. Then I eat the meat and the vegetables with a little broth on each bite. When the vegetables are gone I rip little chunks of Italian bread into the soup and eat the bread with the soaked up broth. And all the while my two sisters would be sitting at the table crying why they had to eat this meal in the first place. They can’t believe I actually make this in my own home because when they moved out of our family home they knew they would never have to eat it again. The truth is, if they tried it now they would probably love it—well, one of my sisters would. The other one subsists on candy and potato chips.
For me Zumaki evokes warm memories of cold days sitting at the dinner table with my family. Whenever it is very cold or someone isn’t feeling well I make a pot of Zumaki. Fortunately, my family looks forward to this meal and they, thankfully, didn’t have the same tearful reaction my sisters had.
2 pounds beef stew meat
2- 3 large onions, quartered
Celery heart, halved
4 medium potatoes
12 ounce can tomato paste
4 beef cubes (or beef bones from butcher)
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Fill a large pot with water. (About two-thirds full). Add the cubed stew meat, bring to a boil and then simmer for thirty minutes. Add the onions, celery and bay leaves. Continue to simmer for another thirty minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, tomato paste and beef cubes. Simmer until the potatoes are tender. Season with salt and pepper. If you use the beef cubes do not add any additional salt. My mom used to add bones for the flavor she would get from the bone marrow and she never used beef cubes. If you choose to do this you may need to add the salt. Serve with lemon and the crusty bread of your choice.