Tu Bishvat is a minor Jewish holiday in the Hebrew month of Shevat, usually sometime in late January or early February, that marks the New Year of the Trees (Hebrew: ראש השנה לאילנות, Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot) or the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle. It is customary to plant trees and eat dried fruits and nuts, especially figs, dates, raisins, carob, and almonds. In Israel, the flowering of the almond tree, which grows wild around the country, coincides with Tu Bishvat.
The origin of Tu Bishvat lies in the ancient Jewish taxation system, which was based mainly on the tithe of every farmer: The first tax was dedicated to the Levites, the men of sanctity and education; the second tithe was a means of securing the pilgrimage and strengthening national solidarity; and the tax of the poor was meant to safeguard, together with numerous other precepts (mitzvot), the social support system for the indigent of the land.
Only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the beginning of the Zionist movement that saw the Land of Israel as central to Jewish existence, did the holiday really become what we know it as today, the festival for planting trees or the Jewish version of Arbor Day.
This Tu Bishvat, I made two new dishes. For the main course, I decided to make Turkish köfte or kebab as they are called in Hebrew. They are basically small meat patties with grated onion, pistachios and spices. You will find a myriad of different variations of kebab. I served them with a tahina sauce and they were accompanied by a steamed artichoke and roasted potatoes with zaatar. I used Turkish red pepper flakes that have been roasted and rubbed with olive oil for this dish. They are not quite as hot as regular hot pepper flakes. This meat mixture can easily be prepared a day ahead and the dish is very quick and easy.
1 ½ cups pistachios
340 g (3/4lb) lamb
340g (3/4lb) beef
2 medium onions, grated
2 tsp ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
Make 2 cups
1 tablespoon ground cumin
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup tahina
¼ cup water
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
Combine the meat, pistachios, onions, cumin, black pepper, red pepper and mix well. Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.
Lightly knead parsley into the mixture. Roll into tablespoon size balls. Brown on a grill pan. Drain on paper and serve with tahina sauce.
Whisk lemon into the tahina, gradually add water until smooth. Season with salt. Add the garlic, black pepper and nigella seeds. Keep at room temperature.
The second dish I decided to make was a traditional fruit cake called Gubana from the Friuli region of Italy and also from neighboring Slovenia. The version I made is a yeast cake, almost like brioche, that is prepared as if you are making puff pastry. The dough is very forgiving and not difficult to make. The only catch about this recipe is that it is time consuming. You must make the dough a day ahead. This cake is sublime; it almost melts in your mouth, and Mr. BT was almost fainting with pleasure.
Already known at the time of the Romans, the Gubana’s fame has increased over the centuries. Two versions exist: a “country” one (Gubana friulana) and an “urban” one (Gubana giuliana). The more refined latter type in fact has a flaky pastry shell and also contains, apart from the recipe of the former (raisins drenched in grappa, grated chocolate, almonds, walnuts, orange and citron peels, figs, plums and pine nuts), spices and candied fruits. The recipe I made is a combination of the Gubana Friulana and the Gubana Giuliana with a little touch of Baroness Tapuzina.
Every Friulian homemaker will have the “original” recipe for Gubana and they will differ from house to house and town to town. A tale is told about a poor mother living in the Natisone Valleys who had nothing to sweeten the Christmas meals with. So she prepared a cake made with what she had at home: flour, eggs, walnuts and honey. The regional tradition requires that the “Gubana” be present for every major festival, such as Christmas and Easter but also for wedding banquets; the bride and bridegroom used to present every guest with this delicious cake. The term “Gubana” is a Slovenian word deriving from “gubat”, which means “to roll up”. In the local dialect it is called “Gubanza”, which became “Gubana” in Italian.
340g (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
50g fresh yeast or 2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
6 pitted prunes
6 dried figs
6 dried sour apricots
10 dried sour cherries
1/8 cup candied lemon
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 tablespoons grappa
Grated zest of 1 small orange
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
To make the dough:
Cut the butter into small pieces and place it in a bowl. Sprinkle over 1/4 cup of the flour, and using your fingers, works the butter and flour together to make a uniform mixture. The butter should remain malleable. Shape the butter into a 10cm (4 inch) square, wrap it in plastic and set it aside in a cool place, but not in the refrigerator. Note: If you live in a hot climate, then put the butter in the refrigerator, but let it sit for a few minutes to become malleable before placing it on the dough.
In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast and warm water to dissolve the yeast. Add a pinch of sugar and let the mixture sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 2 cups of flour with the salt. Add the yeast mixture, sugar, egg and milk. Using the paddle, beat the ingredients until smooth. Switch to the dough hook and knead in the remaining 1-1/2 cups of flour for about 3 to 5 minutes or until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let it relax for 30 to 45 minutes.
Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and roll it into a large rectangle, about 40 x 40 cm (16 x 16 inches). Sprinkle the surface with some flour.
Place the square of butter in the middle of the rectangle of dough.
Fold the left and right sides over the middle, then the top sides over that; the goal is to make a "package" of dough.
Sprinkle the work surface and the top of the dough, as well as your rolling pin. Roll the dough in from the middle toward the top and bottom, making a long rectangle, maintaining the width, but increasing the length.
Fold the bottom upwards to the center, making a flap, and then fold the top over that, making an envelope. Turn the dough clockwise, so that the top flap faces the right; the dough should resemble a book. Once again, flour the work surface, the dough and the rolling pin, and repeat the rolling and folding process. You will end up with another book fold. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours or overnight.
For the filling and assembly:
To make the filling, place all of the dried fruits and nuts, sugar, cocoa and spices into the food processor.
Process to chop until the fruit-nut mixture is finely chopped and the spices and cocoa are thoroughly combined. Add the grappa and orange zest, and pulse to incorporate them.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If it was stored overnight, you will have to allow it to come to room temperature for about an hour before attempting to roll it. On a lightly floured board, roll the dough into a large rectangle, about 38 x 55 cm (15 x 22 inches).
Spread the filling evenly across the center of the dough, leaving a 2.5 cm (1-inch) border at the near end and each side.
Roll the dough, jellyroll style, starting from the bottom, wide side; you will wind up with a long snake.
Grease a 25cm (10 inch) springform pan. Roll the snake into a tight coil, and lay it into the pan, seam side down. Brush the dough with melted butter. Cover the dough with a towel and allow it to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Brush the surface of the dough with egg glaze. Bake the Gubana on the center rack of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown. Rotate the pan halfway through the cooking period to ensure it browns evenly. Allow the Gubana to cool for 20 minutes in the pan, then carefully remove the sides of the pan to cool it completely. To serve, slice the cake in wedges. Gubana will keep wrapped in plastic up to 2 days.