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Shavuot. The “Festival of Weeks.” If ever there was a confusing holiday (Shmini Atzeret aside), Shavuot is it. The definition of “Shavuot” alone is confusing enough. Festival of Weeks? Who wants to celebrate a festival of weeks!? That said, if ever there was an example of why one should never judge anything by its name alone, Shavuot is such an example.
So what are we celebrating, exactly? First, there is the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai (kind of a big deal). Then there is the completion of the counting of the Omer (the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, thus, “Festival of WEEKS”). The counting of the Omer reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed the Jews physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed the Jews spiritually from bondage to idolatry and immorality. But I always wonder, have we really been “freed” from our bondage to idolatry? I’m gonna go with a hard, “NO” on that one.
In my role as a high school counselor, I am often meeting and talking with students about their personal expectations. Too often, adolescents (and their parents, for that matter) have expectations for themselves that are not remotely attainable. Whether it’s trying to fit their body or personal image to¬†that of a celebrity or the pursuit of¬†academic perfection, I would argue that we are still very much bound to¬†worshiping of idols. As a society, we have given so much power to fame and perfection, it is worshiped as truth. Adolescents “follow”¬†celebrities and try in vain to emulate their lifestyle in such a way that they are willing to risk their financial status and physical, mental and emotional health. If that’s not worshiping of an idol, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of worship, Shavuot has recently become of my most favorite holidays due to the foods that are traditionally eaten on this day: dairy foods and spring/summer veggies and fruit. I’m talking foods such as cheesecakes and fresh green salads and gorgeous, ripe fruit. It’s a time of newness and of a re-commitment to learning and spirituality. I¬†dream of hosting a huge picnic in a kibbutz sometime, the sun shining down upon my family and friends and eating salads and cakes until we feel we’re about to burst! One of the cakes I’ll be offering up during a meal this Shavuot is this gorgeous Semolina¬†Cara Cara Orange Cake. Not only does it lend itself to a beautiful¬†presentation, it just so happens to taste good as well. A double threat, if you will.
Semolina Cara Cara Orange Cake
Candied Orange Peel with Syrup Topping:
1. ¬†Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring sugar, honey, cardamom and 3 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add orange slices.
2. ¬†Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, turning orange slices occasionally until tender and syrup is reduced to 3 1/4 cups, about 40 minutes.
3. ¬†Arrange orange slices in a single layer on prepared baking sheet; remove cardamom pods and seeds. Strain syrup.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover syrup and orange slices separately; chill. Return orange slices to room temperature and rewarm syrup slightly before using.
Ingredients for Cake
Directions for Cake
1. ¬†Preheat the oven to 350¬į F.
2. ¬†Place the butter in a small bowl and melt in the microwave. Set aside.
3. ¬†In a large mixing bowl, combine together the sugar and yogurt. Now add in the semolina, baking powder and milk. Finally stir in the melted butter and let the mixture sit briefly so that the butter is absorbed.
4. ¬†Transfer the semolina mixture into a lightly greased 9″-round cake pan or baking dish. Bake for about 40-45 minutes.
5. ¬†Pierce the hot cake all over with a metal skewer. Slowly drizzle 3/4 cup warm syrup all over. When syrup is absorbed, slowly pour 3/4 cup more syrup over the top. Reserve remaining syrup for serving. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack. Once cool, run a thin knife around edge of pan to release cake. Remove pan sides. Arrange candied orange slices over top.
Spring is here and we can finally enjoy delicious‚ÄĒand healthy‚ÄĒfresh vegetable delicacies, like this Italian-inspired Spring Onion and Asparagus Crostata. What makes it really stand out is its crust‚ÄĒmade from a rich cream cheese dough traditionally used in rugelach, the famous Jewish curled-up cookie. You’ll love this savory twist… with spring herbs and caramelized onions.
Spring Onion and Asparagus Crostata
1.¬†¬†Begin by caramelizing the onions. Slice your 2 yellow onions thinly. In a pan over medium heat, cook the sliced onions until they become translucent. Then, put the onions on low and cook for 30-40 minutes stirring occasionally. While the onions cook, prepare your crust.
2.¬† In a mixer, blend cream cheese and butter. Add in the¬†sugar, 1/2 tsp. of salt and 2 Tbsp.¬†of Parmesan. While this is blending, use¬†scissors to snip the¬†chives until you have 1/2 cup of minced chives. Add the¬†all purpose flour and whole wheat flour to the mixer and stir on low¬†so the flour stays in the mixing bowl. When the dough begins to come together, add in the¬†chives. Once the dough forms a ball, take it out of the mixer and wrap it in plastic wrap to make 1 large disc of dough. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. You can also make the dough a day in advance if you prefer.
3.¬†Preheat your oven to 350¬įF. Remove your caramelized onions from the pan and let them cool. With a mandolin, a sharp knife or the slicer on your box grater, thinly slice 2 spring onions. Set the onion aside.
4. ¬†In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan, 1/2 tsp. of salt and pepper. Take the dough out of the fridge. If you have chilled the dough overnight, it may need about 30 minutes on the counter before it is workable.
5.¬†Trim the asparagus by snapping off the thick bottoms. They should snap naturally at the beginning of the tender part of the stalk. Cut the asparagus in half horizontally¬†and then in half again vertically.
5.¬†Cut the dough in half. Roll out one half of the dough into a circle. It does not have to be a perfect circle since a crostata is a rustic dish. The dough should¬†be between 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Spread 1/2 of the caramelized onions around the edge of the dough. Curl the dough over and tuck it into the base of the crostata crust. With scissors, snip little vents along the curled crust. Repeat with the second half of the dough and caramelized onions.
6.¬†Top the crust with 1/2 of the ricotta filling. Layer 1/2 of the spring onion slices on top of the ricotta filling. Carefully arrange the asparagus over the onions. Repeat with the second crust and the other 1/2 of the ricotta filling, spring onion slices and asparagus.
7.¬†Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for 45-55 minutes. The crust will become golden brown along the edges.
8.¬†Serve with a spring salad. ¬†If you have leftover asparagus, you can shave the raw asparagus with a vegetable peeler and top with a homemade salad dressing¬†or whatever dressing you have in your fridge. Look for pea shoots at the grocery store or farmer’s market; they make great spring salads as well.