Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bringing Tortoni Back

Dessert menus at Italian restaurants are pretty standard. You can be sure that the usual favorites like cannoli, gelato, and of course, tiramisu will always be there when you want them. Then there is tortoni; the ghost of dolci menus past. In its most basic form it is a cup of almond or amaretto ice cream topped with crushed toasted almond and a cherry. It’s a forgotten treasure, though if you’ve ever reveled in the simplicity of its creamy texture, toasty sweet flavor, and modest paper cup, you remember it well.

There was a time when tortoni stood right there alongside the best of them. As some baby boomers might remember, in its heyday it was a staple on the dessert menu of any red sauce restaurant worth its salt and the highlight at the end of a family-style meal. Over the years, it became somewhat of a misfit dessert, overshadowed and later pushed off menus completely by the popularity of its richer and more luscious cousins. If you ask, it might still be found lingering in the shadows of your favorite Italian restaurant’s freezer, at least I know that’s the way in New York.

My dad is the only person I know that regularly requests tortoni by name. For him, it brings back memories of my grandpa’s ice cream factory in Brooklyn in the mid-sixties, where as a kid he would watch and occasionally sneak a few of the fresh tortoni that were always being made there. Whenever he is lucky enough to get his hands on the dessert today he is rewarded with a taste of his childhood. Of course, it’s never quite the same. Asking for a tortoni these days will yield one of two results: The server with either look at you like you have five heads, or will bring you one that appears as though it’s been sitting in the freezer for the last fifty years. In the tortoni I’ve come to know, frostbite is practically one of the ingredients.

Tortoni, also known as biscuit tortoni, has a pretty vague history. It’s been around for quite some time, but has phased in and out of popularity over the years. According to this article from a 2009 issue of New York Times Magazine, it is speculated that the frozen dessert was created in the early 19th century by a Neopolatin man named Guiseppe Tortoni who owned the popular Café Tortoni in Paris and it was all the rage. It reached its peak in America in the mid-19th century then all but disappeared except for a brief resurgence in the mid-20th century. Well I say it’s about time for another tortoni revival!

If you look at the Time’s article you’ll notice that my tortoni is a little different from theirs, which is a makeover of a recipe printed in 1898 based off of the traditional tortoni where frozen mousse is used. Mine is a re-creation of the only tortoni I know, the kind like my grandpa used to make at his ice cream factory: ice cream, topping, cherry, done. Note that this dish, like chicken parmesan or penne al la vodka, is distinctly Italian-American—as is an Italian from Italy wouldn’t know this tortoni from Tony down the block.

To create my tortoni, I made frozen custard with a classic crème anglaise/vanilla sauce base and spiked it with amaretto for the distinct almond flavor that the dessert is known for. Amaretto adds a smoother, more refined taste, and is less in-your-face than the generic flavor of almond extract. For the topping, I used a mixture of crumbled toasted almonds and amaretti cookies. Amaertti cookies are like little almond macaroons; they are the “biscuit” in “biscuit tortoni” and they can be found in specialty Italian markets. Of course, it has to be served in a paper cup with a maraschino cherry or else you can just forget about it all together. And no frostbite is included, thank you very much. It’s a perfect little after dinner palate cleanser. Viva il tortoni!

Tortoni (Amaretto Ice Cream Cups)
Yield: 12 cups
- ½ cup blanched almonds, toasted and cooled
- ½ cup amaretti cookie
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1 vanilla bean
- 9 ounces egg yolks (about 14 eggs)
- ¼ cup amaretto or more to taste (can substitute with almond extract; add 1 teaspoon at a time, tasting after each addition until desired flavor is reached)
- 12 paper squeeze cups (like the ones used for Italian ices)
- 12 maraschino cherries, drained, rinsed and dried
1) Either manually or using a food processor, finely crush the blanched almonds and amaretti cookies separately; mix together to combine and set aside. Prepare an ice bath with a strainer and metal bowl/container nearby.
2) To make the ice cream base, combine the milk, heavy cream, salt, and ½ cup of the sugar in a small saucepan. Scrape out the inside of the vanilla bean and add to the mixture along with the pods. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks with the remaining ½ cup of sugar until well blended.
3) To temper the egg yolks, gradually add about 1/3 of the hot milk, whisking constantly. Return the tempered egg to the remaining hot milk mixture in the saucepan and continue cooking until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon. You will know you’ve reached the right consistency, when you can make a clean line across the back of the spoon with your finger.
4) Strain the sauce into the metal bowl/container over the prepared ice bath to chill. At this point, add the amaretto. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours until thoroughly cooled.
5) Using an ice cream machine, prepare the ice cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the ice cream to the paper squeeze cups and top with the crushed toasted almond/amaretti cookie. Freeze for about 2 hours before topping each with a cherry so that they don’t sink. Freeze several hours more, then enjoy. Wrap individually and keep stored in the freezer for a delicious dessert any time.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mexico City-Style Pork Burgers

When I think mayonnaise, I instantly think Hellmann’s; the words are practically synonymous. It’s such an icon among condiments, that it’s hard to imagine making classics like deli-style macaroni and potato salads, or a BLT without it. This year marks a century since Richard Hellmann first won the public over with the sandwich-transforming mayonnaise he served at his New York deli. It’s the same great-tasting blend of quality oil, vinegar, and now cage-free eggs that has led American families to trust Hellmann’s for generations.

Hellmann’s is celebrating their 100th birthday in a big way—world record-breaking big. This September, they will commemorate the milestone in New York City at their extravagant “Blue Ribbon Table”—the World’s Longest Picnic Table. What could be more fitting than a picnic for the brand we’ve invited to our own little picnic tables for years? The best part is that all creative cooks have a chance to win a seat at the event by participating in Hellmann’s “Making Over the Best” contest.

Have you ever wanted to cook with Chef Mario Batali? Well, this is your chance (kind of). As part of the contest, fans can virtually “co-create” a recipe with Mario by putting their own spin on one of six classic Hellmann’s recipes that he has recreated. Think that Fiery Chipotle Devilled Eggs sounds like something you can improve upon? Maybe you have your own interesting take on Chicken Wings with White Barbecue Sauce? That trip to New York could be yours. Check out all of the options on the Facebook app to see which recipe calls to you the most. The Juicy Salsa Burger is what caught my eye.

Mario’s burger, a simple well-seasoned beef patty topped with fire-roasted salsa, sounded delicious. To make the recipe my own, I ran with the salsa theme, creating a full-on Mexican-inspired burger with the toppings of a traditional Mexico City street taco: tomatillo salsa verde, fresh cilantro leaves and scallions, pickled red onions, cotija cheese, and lime crema—the works. And since I like my tacos with pork, I decided to make it a pork burger (with bacon for good measure). What I found most interesting about Mario’s burger was that he added the Hellmann’s mayonnaise directly to his beef mixture. I did the same for mine, which ended up working particularly great for pork burgers because it helped to bind and keep them juicy.

These burgers have got it going on. Between the bacon, cumin, and garlic seasoning of the pork and the bright kick of the raw tomatillo and jalapeno in the salsa verde, the balance of flavors is on point. The cilantro and scallions incorporate even more freshness to the bite, while the pickled red onion adds crispness, color, and sweetness without any overpowering onion taste. Just as with a taco, the cotija cheese is the perfect finish, especially as it is squished into delicious matrimony with the mayo and sour cream crema.

Now it’s your turn. Visit to watch Mario Batali share his modern makeovers on classic Hellmann’s recipes for inspiration, then choose a favorite and put your own twist on it. Enter your recipe and you could be sitting at the World’s Longest Picnic Table in New York City in September. Good luck! #Hellmanns100

As part of the brand’s 100th birthday celebration, Hellmann’s is also helping to provide one million meals to Feeding America this year to help the fight against hunger nationwide.

Mexico City-Style Pork Burgers
Yield: 5 burgers
- 2 pounds ground pork
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 tablespoons Hellmann’s mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 6 slices bacon, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 5 seeded buns
- Salsa verde (recipe follows)
- 1 bunch scallions (about 7 scallions), chopped
- 1 bunch cilantro leaves, picked from the stems and rinsed
- Pickled onions (recipe follows)
- 6 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled
- Lime crema (recipe follows)
1) Add the pork, cumin, mayo, salt and pepper to a large bowl. Heat a skillet over medium heat; add the bacon and cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is done but not crispy, about 3 minutes. Add the bacon to the bowl with the pork, leaving the fat in the skillet. Cook the garlic in the rendered bacon fat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and any remaining fat to the pork and mix well until all the ingredients are combined.
2) Form five even burger patties. Grill the burgers over medium-high heat, about 5-6 minutes per side, until cooked through. Toast the buns. In the meantime, toss the scallions and the cilantro leaves together like a salad.
3) To assemble the burgers: Place a pork burger on each toasted bun. Place a generous spoonful of salsa verde on the burgers and spread. Top with the scallion and cilantro mixture, and several slices of pickled onion. Crumble the cotija cheese over. Spread the lime crema on the top bun of each burger, or place on the table for self service.

Pickled Red Onion (1 cup)
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoons salt
- ½ cup water
- 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
- Juice from 1 lime
- 1 red onion, sliced
• Combine the sugar, salt, water, vinegar, and lime juice in a small saucepan and bring to boil; pour over the onions. Store in an airtight container. Marinate for at least 1 hour before using.

Salsa Verde (1 cup)
- 6 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and roughly chopped
- 1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
- 5 sprigs cilantro, thick stems removed
- ¼ cup white onion, roughly chopped, rinsed under cold water, and well drained
- Salt to taste
• Combine all ingredients except for salt in a blender or food processor and process to coarse puree. Season with salt to taste as needed.

Lime Crema (about ½ cup)
- ½ cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- Zest and juice of 1 lime
- Salt and pepper to taste
• Combine the mayo, sour cream, lime zest and juice in a medium bowl and whisk until well combined. Add the salt and pepper to taste.