Read more about Yedida Dabah in “The Sephardic Pastry That Keeps the Memory of a Mother Alive” and try her recipes for Yedida’s pastelicos and Yedida’s tahini.
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.