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A Shavuot Recipe That Spans 3000 Miles and Hundreds of Years

A Shavuot Recipe That Spans 3000 Miles and Hundreds of Years


Recipe Roots: Spain > Italy > Syria (Elli’s family) and Safed, Israel (Yedida’s family) > Jerusalem
Shared by Yedida and Elli Dabah

In the spring, tables in Israeli homes particularly in the Galilean towns of Safed and Tiberias are set with calsones (or calzones), pronounced caltzones, ravioli-like pockets stuffed with locally made sheep’s milk cheese called tzfatit. It’s a tradition that has roots in the Jewish communities of Spain and Italy, possibly dating as far back as the period just following the Inquisition. The dish, scholars believe, was brought by migrating Jews to Syria and ultimately to Israel where it is a staple on Shavuot, a harvest festival that marks the receiving of the Torah.

Yedida and Elli Dabah’s families are among those Sephardic and Syrian communities in Israel. Growing up in neighboring apartments in Jerusalem, calsones were part of the Shavuot table in both of their homes. In Yedida’s, the pasta was served alongside a spread of fried yeasted dough filled with cheese, salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, homemade pickles, hard-boiled eggs, glasses of anise-flavored arak, and rice cooked in milk, sweetened with honey for dessert.  

Calsones were just one of the fresh pastas Yedida’s mother Dvora rolled out by hand. Periodically, Yedida would come home from school to find sheets draped across beds around the apartment covered with pasta strips set out to dry. She was never allowed to help with the cooking though; her mother said she and her sister would get in the way.

It wasn’t until after Dvora and Elli’s mother Rachel passed away that the couple started trying to recreate their mothers’ pasta recipes as a way to remember the flavors of their childhood. They set aside a half day every couple of months for the operation, working in tandem: Yedida is in charge of making the dough and filling mixtures, while Elli rolls out the dough using Rachel’s pasta roller and oversees the stuffing of the calsones. After they are finished, the calsones are frozen, always ready for visits with their grandchildren.

While the dough and the cheese filling the couple uses are the same as Dvora’s, the two have added their own tradition to the recipe, creating a vegan filling with sweet potato and mushrooms for one family member (though it’s now loved by the entire family) and a green filling made with garlic and beetroot leaves, an idea they borrowed from their favorite restaurant in Italy.

Calsones in their family are no longer reserved just for Shavuot, but they are the star on the table during the holiday. This year, they will join a feast of stuffed mushrooms, savory pies, several salads, cheesecake for dessert and sweets made with atayef, or small pancakes, stuffed with nuts and served in syrup — a superb dairy-filled feast.

As we learned the story of Elli and Yedida’s calsones this spring, we couldn’t help but think of the long trip the recipe made to arrive in this Jerusalem kitchen. We are so glad it survived the journey.

*Check out more recipes from Yedida and Elli in our archive here.

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

Yedida & Elli's Calsones

Makes: ~75 calsones and about 1 lb. of fettuccine
Total time: 2-3 hours

For the Dough:

7 cups (1000g) all-purpose flour, plus additional for work surface
½ tablespoon salt
5 eggs, whisked
1 ½ cups water

For assembly:
1-2 eggs, whisked, for egg wash

Special Equipment:
Pasta Machine

1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk the flour and salt together. Create a well in the center of the flour and pour in the eggs. Using a circular motion slowly start to incorporate the flour into the eggs. Once most of the egg mixture has been incorporated, slowly drizzle in the water while continuing to mix. Once the dough starts to come together, knead for 3-4 more minutes until an even dough forms. It will still be a little shaggy. Divide the dough into 10 balls, sprinkle with flour and let rest in the bowl, covered with a clean kitchen towel for 30 minutes.

2. Prepare your work station: securely fasten your pasta machine to a large table or work surface. Generously flour the work surface and the pasta maker.

3. Roll out the dough: Take the first ball of dough and flatten and stretch it into a 2x3” rectangular shape. Set the pasta machine to position 2 and carefully crank the dough through the machine. Repeat with the pasta machine set to position 4 and then position 6. The dough will have gone through the machine a total of three times and should now be a long, thin, wide sheet. Place the sheet on the prepared work surface and sprinkle with flour. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.  

4. Fill and shape the calsones: Place a pasta sheet in front of you. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat with the egg wash. Place 1 tablespoon of filling (see filling options below), about 1 inch from the top edge of the pasta sheet. Repeat, moving down the length of the pasta sheet placing tablespoons of filling about 2 inches apart from one another.

5. Working carefully, lay another pasta sheet, approximately the same size, over the fillings. Press around the perimeter of each filling mound out to the edges of the dough sheets to tighten and seal the pasta around the filling being careful not to create any air pockets. If you encounter any air pockets, poke them with a knife, release the air and re-seal the dough. Use a thin rimmed glass or cup (about 2 ½ -3 inches in diameter) to cut the calsones into even circles with the filling in the middle. Transfer to a floured baking sheet. Gather the scraps back into a ball and set aside to rest covered.

6. At this stage you can freeze the calsones on the tray for 10-15 minutes and then transfer to a ziplock or other container to store in the freezer until ready to eat.

7. To cook the calsones: Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Place 8-10 calsones in the water, being careful not to overcrowd the pot, and cook for about 2 minutes (if cooking frozen calsones, place in the boiling water straight from the freezer and add 1-2 more minutes of cooking time). Remove with a spider or strainer, add sauce (see options below) and serve immediately.

8. Use the remaining dough scraps to make fettuccine! Reshape the dough into 2x3” rectangles and run it back through the pasta machine on 2, 4 and 6 and then finally through the fettuccine setting. Spread out on a floured surface until totally dry, then move into a sealed container. Cook for 2 minutes in boiling water. Drain and serve with your choice of sauce.

Cheese filling

Makes about 2 cups

1 ½ cups ricotta cheese
½ cup tsfatit* cheese, finely grated, plus more for serving
¼ cup Pecorino cheese, finely grated
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Place the ricotta, tsfatit, and pecorino  in a medium bowl and mix until well combined.
2. For the sauce: While the calsones are still hot, dot with small pieces of butter and serve with grated tsfatit cheese.

*Tsfatit cheese is easy to come by in Israel, but difficult to find elsewhere. Feta can be used as a substitute.

Mushroom & Sweet Potato filling

Makes about 2 cups

For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 oz. button mushrooms, finely diced
8 oz mini-bella or cremini mushrooms, finely diced
1 medium sweet potato, boiled or steamed until soft
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove of garlic, grated
5 vine ripe tomatoes, grated
5-6 leaves of basil or thyme branches

1. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat, add the onion and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring occasionally until tender, 8-10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Peel the sweet potato and mash it with a fork. Add to the mushrooms and onions along with the salt and pepper. Mix until well combined.

2. For the sauce: Heat the oil over low heat in a medium pan. Add the garlic and sauté until aromatic, about 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer over a medium-low flame for 20-30 minutes. Add the basil or thyme and then the calsones, simmering in the sauce for 1-2 minutes, then serve immediately.

Beet Green filling

Makes about 1 cup

For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch beet greens, trimmed and washed, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt

For the sauce:
1 cup (8oz.) heavy cream
¼ cup tsfatit, grated
¼ cup parmesan, grated
¼ cup pecorino, grated
¼ cup farmer’s cheese, grated

1. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the beet greens and sauté until wilted, 3-5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the salt and stir to combine evenly. Once cool, pulse in a food processor 5-8 times until chopped but not mushy.

2. For the sauce: In a medium saucepan warm the heavy cream over medium heat. Add the tsfaftit, parmesan, pecorino, and farmer’s cheese and mix until incorporated. Add the calsones and cook for 1-2 minutes, then serve immediately.

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