Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival


Here are three survivors’ stories and recipes to give you a taste of Recipes Remembered.

Ruth and Vittorio Orvieto

In Ruth’s words
Ruth’s story is very international. From a childhood in Germany, coming of age in Ecuador and a 57-year marriage to Vittorio, an Italian survivor, Ruth’s life experiences have truly covered the globe.

I was born in Breslau, Germany and had one older brother. On Kristallnacht, my sixteen-year old brother was almost taken to a labor camp, so shortly after that my family shipped him off to Palestine. My father was sent to Buchenwald, and my mother went everyday to the Gestapo to negotiate for his release. At that time they would still let him go if she could secure a visa for him to another country. She secured visas for him alone to Shanghai, but he would not go without us. We scrambled and quickly got visas for the entire family to Ecuador instead. We arrived in Ecuador in 1939; I was twelve at the time. Life was very different for us. In Germany, my father was a successful manufacturer, in Ecuador, he sold butter. Before leaving we had packed our suitcases with items to use for bartering. When we arrived at the docks to leave Germany, the Gestapo confiscated our bags. We arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador literally with nothing but the clothes on our backs. When I was thirteen, I had to stop school and go to work to help support our family.

In Ecuador, I didn’t consider myself to be German. I had only one dream and that was to get out of there and go to America. I had an affidavit, and I could have gone, but I met and married my husband and we began raising a family. My husband, Vittorio, was born in Genoa, Italy, and left there at nineteen to escape the Holocaust. He often recalled the enormous kindness of the Italian people who helped him board a ship to Ecuador. I always say that was the only good thing Hitler did for me. After my second child was born, I knew I wanted to give my children a better life and a good education. We came to America in 1955, where we had our third child. I never felt German, and preferred to cook the Italian food my husband enjoyed. We were married 57 years and have three children, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Ruth Orvieto’s Gnocchi Ala Romana—Semolina Gnocchi with Cheese
Ruth’s version of gnocchi, crusty, pillowy rounds of baked semolina layered with butter and Parmesan cheese, makes a beautiful presentation and a rich alternative to polenta or baked noodles.

Yields: 4 to 6 servings; Start to Finish: Under 1 ½ hours

2½ cups whole milk
¾ cup semolina flour
4 tablespoons butter; 2 tablespoons cold, 2 tablespoons melted
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup Parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk till scalding (the point right before boiling, you’ll see a skin begin to form on the top of the milk). Lower the heat to a simmer and begin adding the semolina, ¼ cup at a time. Stir with a whisk to avoid clumping. Once the semolina is completely incorporated, begin stirring with a wooden spoon; the mixture will look like mashed potatoes. On the lowest simmer possible, cook the semolina for 15 to 20 minutes, it will continue to thicken and when you stir, it should pull away from the sides of the pot. It is done when it is very stiff and resembles wet dough.

Take off the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of cold butter, the egg yolk, salt and half the cheese. The semolina will become very elastic and completely leave the sides of the pot. Clean and lightly dampen a large counter, or a marble slab. Turn the semolina mixture onto the cool, clean, damp surface and using a wet spatula or rolling pin, spread the semolina into a ½-inch layer. Let the mixture cool for at least 20 minutes. The dough should be cool to the touch before beginning the next step.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly butter the bottom of an 11 x 7-inch rectangular baking dish.* In a separate small bowl, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and reserve.

Using a 1½ -inch round cookie cutter, cut circles from the dough and begin layering them in the pan. Start with 24 rounds on the bottom (4 across, 6 down). Using a pastry brush, brush the rounds with the reserved melted butter and sprinkle a little of the remaining cheese on top. Cut 18 rounds for the next layer, and in a pyramid fashion, place those rounds on top of the first layer, (3 across, 6 down). Brush with butter and sprinkle with cheese. Your next layer will be 12 pieces, (2 across, 6 down) and the final layer will be 6 pieces, right down the center; brush with butter and sprinkle each layer with cheese. You will need to gather the scraps of dough and roll them out again in order to complete the layering.** Pour any remaining butter on top and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top lightly browns.

*You can also use an 8-inch round or 9-inch square pan, following the same layering patterns. You will need between 60-64 rounds.

**Editor’s Note: If you have a little dough left over and you have layered to your heart’s content, consider making the dough into squares or triangles and frying them up quickly with a little butter. You can enjoy the fruits of your labor long before those 20-25 minutes are up.

Gita Karelitz Roback and Godel Roback

As told by their daughter, Rosy Granoff
Gita’s intelligence and chutzpah were two characteristics that served her well. Even as a child, she was a non-conformist who envisioned a strong Palestine. However, her legacy is here in America, as her daughter lovingly remembers her, as a brave, resourceful woman.

My mother was the youngest of three children, born to a well-to-do family in Baranów, Poland. My Mom, who was just a kid before the war broke out, attended parochial school. She benefited from a very good education, and I am proud to say my mother spoke seven languages. She was also somewhat of a free spirit, very dissimilar to her siblings; shunning materialistic things and pursuing Zionist causes. As a young girl, she would sneak out of her house at night and attend meetings and rallies sponsored by Menachem Begin’s right-wing organization. When the war broke out, she was working as a bookkeeper. Several members of her family were immediately deported to Siberia, and others followed after to find them; they were never heard from again. When my mother was sent to the ghetto, she worked as an administrative assistant for a German officer. It is hard to imagine, but she witnessed her mother being rounded up and taken away. My mother wanted to go after her, but the officer convinced her to stay, explaining frankly that if she left, she would not survive. While in the ghetto, she and her first cousin plotted their escape, with hopes of joining the partisans. Through ingenious trickery, she made arrangements to sneak over the barbed wire and escape into the woods where they joined a small group of freedom fighters. They spent the next couple of years traveling by night and hiding by day. It was in this group, that she met my father, Godel Roback. After the war, my mother and father moved to Rome, Italy, where my two brothers were born. Their plan was to realize my mother’s lifelong dream and go to Palestine. However, a family member from my father’s side offered to sponsor their trip to America and they accepted. My parents surrounded themselves with friends from the war; partisans became the relatives we never had the chance to meet. And while we had a traditional Shabbos dinner every Friday night my mother’s cooking traditions were more American and Italian than Eastern European. A family tradition, which stemmed from the time she spent in Italy, was to have pasta every Sunday night. She and my Dad were married over 40 years, and together they had three children, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Gita Roback’s Slow Simmered Sunday Sauce
Gita would begin her sauce with the tireless trio of onions, peppers and celery. Slow cooked herbs, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste simmered the day away till a robust and aromatic sauce emerged. These same ingredients can easily create a quick sauce; you might sacrifice a little in flavor, but if time is crunching, it’s still far better than store bought. Gita would bathe waiting pasta in the vibrant sauce and serve it alongside thick, juicy rib steaks, which were simply broiled. For a change of pace, burgers made from freshly ground beef and veal and seasoned with grated onion and garlic would be served bunless alongside the spaghetti.

Yields: 3 cups, Start to Finish: At least 4 hours or up to 6 hours, For quick sauce, under 1 hour

1 medium onion, finely chopped (about ¾ cup)
1 medium green pepper, cored, seeded and diced
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes with their juice
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 (8-ounce) can of tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons freshly chopped oregano
2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat leaf parsley plus additional for garnish 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil plus additional for garnish
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and pepper

Heat the oil, in a large saucepan, cook and stir the onions, peppers and celery, over medium heat, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, parsley, basil and bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook the sauce, for at least 4 hours or up to 6. For quick sauce, cook for 30-60 minutes. In the last few minutes of cooking add the parsley and basil. Before serving, remove the bay leaves and toss with your choice of pasta.

In this slow simmered sauce, parsley and basil are added twice. First they are cooked with the sauce to flavor it and meld with the aromatics. They are also added right at the end to appreciate their full flavor. Usually, the fresh spring taste of soft herbs such as parsley, dill and basil is best preserved if they are chopped right before using and added at the very end. With this recipe, you get the slow cooked flavor from the herbs and their vibrant fresh boost at the end.

Ruth Goldman Tobias

In her own words
Ruth Tobias is all about family and community. The day I met her, she was cooking for an Orthodox Jewish tradition called Sheva Brochos—Seven Blessings, when the bride and groom celebrate their nuptials for one week. Ruth is a creative cook and as a result of her internment in Italy during the war, has studied Italian cooking. I devoured her delicious mandelbrot, a recipe that will remain Ruth’s secret. She did, however, share her story and several other wonderful recipes with me.

My parents both came from the same small city in Poland. My father, Avram, left pre-war Poland and headed to Germany to study. Sabina, my mother, came from an Orthodox family and also went to Germany. There they met and married. The mood in Germany was changing, and my father knew they had to relocate. He traveled to Italy to secure passage on an illegal ship to Palestine. In a twist of fate he met a man on the train who convinced him to go to Milan. My father took that man’s advice and together my parents left Germany to settle in Italy. On June 10, 1940, Hitler and Mussolini made a pact and the following day the Allies bombed Milan. Shortly after the bombing, Sabina went into labor and I was born on the holiday of Shavuos, the 12th of June. A year later, my mother and I were sent to an internment camp in Potenza. My father was not home at the time and therefore continued to live in a “safe” house in Milan. Eventually he was arrested and sent to Italy’s largest concentration camp, Ferramonti. After some time, my father was able to transfer to Potenza where we were reunited. Growing up in an internment camp seemed normal to me. There, I played with friends, lived simply but comfortably and remember cooking with my mother. Although we were under the protection of the Italian people, we held on to our Jewish traditions. We baked matzo on a big open fire and observed Passover and the other Jewish holidays.

Shortly after the Germans took control of Italy in September, 1943, our camp was dispersed and we were sent to a small town called Tito where several Jewish families were harbored. I remember the Italians being compassionate, and I am grateful to them for keeping us safe. We could have easily been transported to a death camp, but because of their protective nature, we were spared. The Canadians liberated us and the two things I remember were tasting chocolate and gum for the first time.

I know my upbringing was far from conventional, yet through the disruption and movement, I learned many things. I am very family-oriented because I felt so isolated growing up. I enjoy family gatherings and I cherish the traditions my parents imbued in me. Because of my love for Italy and the Italian people who saved me, I have spent time in Tuscany and Bologna learning to prepare the traditional Italian foods that I did not explore as a child. I prepare both the traditional Jewish specialties as well as my Italian dishes. But mostly, I learned how to look at life. My father always said, “cope with the problems that life brings and be thankful for what you have.” I remember my Dad singing all the time and my Mom maintaining an amazingly positive outlook.

No one goes through life without disappointment; it is how you handle it that makes you who you are. I have tried to pass that philosophy on to my three children and three grandchildren.

Sabina Goldman’s Bursting with Blueberries Tart
There are two kinds of blueberries, those that are shy and drawn and not really worth eating, and those that are so ripe with blueberry flavor that they are ready to burst out of their skin—-those are the blueberries you want for this simply divine tart. Ruth’s Mom, Sabina, added vinegar to the crust, which acts as a stabilizer and adds a subtle bite to balance the buttery flavor. The blueberries bubble and create their own sweet syrup.

Yields: About 8 servings; Start to Finish: Under 1½ hours

For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter or margarine
2 tablespoons white vinegar

For the filling:
4 cups fresh blueberries
½ cup sugar
? teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups fresh blueberries
Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Using a pastry blender or in the processor, cut in the chilled butter and pulse or blend to form a crumb-like consistency. Allow bits of butter to remain visible, they melt and create steam during the baking process for a very tender and flaky crust. Sprinkle with vinegar and blend until you have created a soft dough.

With lightly floured hands, press the dough into a 9 x 2-inch spring form pan, or a 9 x 1-inch pie pan with a removable bottom. The crust should be about ¼-inch thick on the bottom; the sides should be a little thinner and come up about 1-inch (you might have some dough remaining). You can refrigerate the crust until ready to fill. In a separate bowl, gently toss the filling ingredients. Spoon the filling into the pan and bake, on the lower rack, at 400 degrees for 1 hour. When the tart cools, garnish with blueberries and a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.