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Tortoni sono Buoni = Tortoni, They are Good

When I was a little girl, we lived in New York City. I’m talking about the waaaaay early days before my pesky little attention hog of a baby brother was born. Ah…..those were the days! The days of being an only child, basking in the undivided adoration of all the adults in my life. I was the center of the universe. The apple of everyone’s eye.
We didn’t go out for meals very often back then, unless you count my Nonna’s house. My parents were practically kids themselves and could barely afford me! When we did go to a restaurant, it was usually one of a short list of choices. The place I remember most fondly was a little neighborhood trattoria called Johnny’s. The owners, John and Marie, were a nice, middle-aged Italian couple who kind of adopted my parents. My father hadn’t been in this country very long and Marie used to make him all the special dishes he missed from home. I, of course, being outrageously precocious and incredibly cute, always rated special treatment.

When I was four, John and Marie gave me a little stuffed duck, wearing a felt dress and straw hat and carrying a basket of teeny, tiny plastic flowers. I called her Duckie and I took her everywhere. Eventually, I loved off the dress, hat and basket, but you know what? Forty years later, I still have that naked and threadbare little duck sitting on a shelf in my bedroom!

Many years have passed since then. Johnny’s is long gone, but I still remember the warmth and hospitality my family always experienced there. Another thing I vividly remember is sneaking sips of my mother’s espresso as I enjoyed one of my favorite treats of all time – tortoni. How I loved it!

Tortoni is a classic Italian frozen dessert traditionally made with eggs and heavy cream, much like a custard-based ice cream. It often contains chopped maraschino cherries and is topped with minced almonds or crumbled macaroons. It is also usually flavored with rum or some kind of liqueur. The dessert is believed to have been named after a famous Italian café owner of the same name in 19th century Paris.

Sadly, I have rarely ever seen tortoni on a restaurant menu since. It’s a shame really, because it is a wonderful dessert. Several years ago I decided to try and recreate the dish for an Italian-themed dinner party I was hosting. I did a little research and some experimentation, and came up with what I thought was a pretty good interpretation.

I use vanilla ice cream, freshly whipped cream, toasted almonds and amaretti, which are Italian almond cookies. Sometimes, I go all out and make my own ice cream, but any good quality, premium vanilla ice cream will work just as well. Amaretti can be found at most Italian specialty stores as well as many supermarkets. Most of the tortoni recipes I’ve seen use rum or brandy. I prefer to carry the almond theme through, so I use an amaretto liqueur.


My tortoni is light and creamy, with a delicate almond flavor. The amaretti give it just a touch of crunchiness too. You can serve the tortoni in small paper pastry cups or ramekins, but sometimes I just make it in a big bowl and serve it family-style. No matter how you scoop it, tortoni sono buoni!


3/4 cup cup blanched almonds
2 1/2 cups amaretti cookies
3 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (You can use more or less to taste.)
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 quart homemade or premium quality vanilla ice cream, softened
Maraschino cherries, drained and halved for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place chopped almonds on a pie plate or small baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly golden, about 7-8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Crush the amaretti cookies into small nuggets. You can do this by putting them in a zip lock bag and smacking them with a rolling pin or meat mallet. Be careful not to turn them into crumbs. Place crumbled cookies in a medium bowl and toss with the almonds. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat cream with an electric mixer until thickened. Pour in the amaretto and whip until medium peaks form. Spoon the cookie mixture into the whipped cream, reserving 3/4 cup or so for topping.

Add the almond extract to the softened ice cream and stir until blended and very smooth. Fold
cookie/whipped cream mixture into ice cream.

Spoon into little pastry cups or ramekins. Sprinkle each cup with some of the reserved cookie mixture and top with a cherry.

Freeze until firm.


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