Valentine love and traditions- the first and second time around.

       I know everyone has different feelings about Valentine’s Day.   Some people see it as the day that they have to get validation of love, while some people view it as a made up holiday ( which technically all holidays are pretty much made up in some way or another) that doesn’t deserve acknowledgement. I personally enjoy having the excuse to be thoughtful about those I love and look forward to any excuse to celebrate. Millions of people celebrate the ritual of grown men slamming into each other over an oblong pigskin ball for Super Bowl, so I have no shame in celebrating my love for my sweetheart, Starshine and my son, Spud.
     Growing up, my family always acknowledged Valentine’s Day. I remember my mom making the card box for my grammar school class, buying me valentines to hand out, and we always exchanged gifts as a family.
     I brought that tradition right into my adult life and added the joy of Valentine’s Day dinner out.   In my first half of my adult life, I lived in Hoboken NJ and had a lifelong favorite Italian restaurant, Leo’s Grandevous.   I had grown up going to Leo’s as a child , and had a favorite memory of bar pies and tortoni for dessert.   Tortoni as I knew it in northern NJ was a popular ice cream dessert in Italian restaurants.  It’s vanilla ice cream in a small paper cup flavored lightly with amaretto and the top is covered with grated toasted almonds and a marishino cherry half.  Perfectly kid sized.  Leo’s was a regular Friday night haunt for us for 20 years.   The food was solid traditional Italian, it was reasonablly priced , it had an awesome retro bar, the 3 generations of staff knew and loved us for years, and it had the greatest Franks Sinatra collection on the jukebox that anyone could ask for.   Oh and I cannot forget about the best mussels marinara you will have anywhere.  On Valentine’s Day they had specials – particularly they would make their bar pies heart shaped.   I don’t think I missed being there for a single February 14th for 20 years with my husband and/or son.  Unfortunately, in my adult life the popularity of the tortoni dwindled and it was no longer on the menu.  Spud was denied growing up with the tortoni in his life.
     For the second half of my adult of my life, I moved to suburban Washington DC, in Maryland.   I have been lucky enough to find love the second time around.  My new sweetheart, Starshine and I have a wonderful family owned Italian restaurant called Amalfi Ristorante that has served as my new local replacement for Leo’s.  Amalfi is still a casual family restaurant but the atmosphere and menu is a little more sophisticated.  They lack the more casual traditional pizza options but their pasta is always fresh made in house.  Of course, as a pasta maker, I truly appreciate these fresh dishes when I am too lazy to cook myself.  John, the owner, and our favorite waiter always remembers us and reserves my favorite specials (crab pasta and soft shell crab, in season) for me when I call ahead.   We don’t go to Amalfi with the same frequency as I did Leo’s , but we love it just the same and haven’t missed a Valentine’s dinner here yet, continuing the tradition.   The added bonus is that they regularly have their homemade tortoni as a dessert special , which John was sure to save me some the other night.   It’s not the tortoni of my childhood in the paper cup,   But it’s even better.  It is extra creamy served in slices with a sugar brûlée on top.  I always used to pick off the Marishino cherry anyway.
     Our other dishes for our Valentine dinner were Fried Zucchini, Pasta Fagoli, Shrimp Scampi and Fettucine with Beef Ragout.
Fried Zucchini
Pasta Fagoli
Shrimp Scampi
Fettucine with Beef Ragout
Here is my recipe for this delicious dessert that is pretty close to Amalfi’s, just without the brulee top:
 
Italian Tortoni
Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons amaretto or almond extract
1 cup amaretti cookies, finely crushed almost to powder
2 egg whites
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted and finely chopped
12 candied or maraschino cherries
 
Directions:
Prepare a 12-opening muffin tin with paper liners, or use 12 1/2 cup ramekins , or a ceremic rectangle baking dish.
Whip  the cream until slightly stiff. Add sugar, vanilla, and amaretto.
Continue to whip until cream holds in stiff peaks. Fold in crushed cookies.In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold the egg whites into the cream mixture.
Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the mixture into the prepared muffin liners, ramekins or spread into a casserole dish.
Garnish each tortoni with the chopped almonds and top with a cherry.
Place in the freezer. Freeze about 2-3 hours, or until firm.
If you used a casserole dish, slice into rectangles and serve like cake slices.

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