Posted January 21, 2014 04:04 pm - Updated January 22, 2014 10:51 am
In 1962, my parents Frank and Pauline Conforti, opened Frankie’s Italian Restaurant in Huntington Station, Long Island, New York. The restaurant was cozy, family-friendly and popular for its homemade pizzas and meals, generous portions and modest prices. They captured their niche quickly, and it wasn’t long before Frankie’s became the kind of favorite neighborhood place that everybody wanted to consider their “own.” For a restaurant of its size (or for any restaurant for that matter), Frankie’s featured an ambitious menu, with numerous specialties, including desserts, which were lock, stock and barrel in my mother’s domain. Pauline’s homemade cheesecakes (she made three varieties) and tortoni, which she introduced into the restaurant in 1964, were legendary. (Tortoni? Remember tortoni?) Moreover, because the restaurant was small, take-out business was brisk, including the demand for pizza, which just about flew out the door. I remember my father, who is now deceased, telling me that for feeding big families (and he would know, he and mom raised five kids), “it was hard to beat pizza.”
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the early years, and for many years thereafter, Frankie’s offered a large (and I mean large) pizza for $1.75. If you were in the mood for a sandwich, you could have an eggplant parmigiana or sausage and peppers hero for 80 cents. In addition, if it was chicken you craved, a complete chicken cacciatore meal, including spaghetti and salad with homemade house dressing (another specialty), could be yours for $2.50.
Of course, as time went on, prices did go up, but reasonably so in comparison to food expenses and the general cost of doing business. In fact, nearly a quarter of a century after Frankie’s opened, the restaurant’s prices were still deemed “modest” in a frame-worthy review in 1985 by Sylvia Carter, a food columnist and restaurant critic for Long Island’s Newsday.
'Soul food, Italian style'
Carter, who likened my parents’ cooking to “soul food, Italian style,” was also “wild” about my mother’s chocolate cheesecake and homemade tortoni. It was once as hot on Italian restaurant menus as tiramisú, but seems to have all but disappeared. I’ll give you that tortoni is deadly – and rich – but not any more so than any other calorie-laden dessert. Flavored with DiSaronno Italian liqueur and crushed Lazzaroni Amaretti cookies, tortoni is uniquely delicious and deceptively easy to prepare.
Biscuit Tortoni is the stuff dreams are made of. Unless you prepare it yourself, or it makes a comeback at your favorite Italian eatery, it will more than likely stay that way
Recipe courtesy Pauline Conforti
Frankie’s Italian Restaurant, Huntington Station, New York
3 large eggs, separated (for safety, use pasteurized eggs)
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
2 tablespoons DiSaronno Italian liqueur
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup Lazzaroni Amaretti cookie crumbs (¾ cup for the tortoni, ¼ cup reserved for garnish)*
Maraschino cherries, halved, for garnish
Fluted paper cups (3- to 4-ounce size)
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer set to low speed, begin to beat the egg whites. Increase speed to medium-high and continue to beat the whites until they are stiff; set aside. In another bowl, with an electric mixer set to medium-high, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and lemon-colored. Beating on low speed, slowly add the liqueur and vanilla, beating until combined; set aside. Gently fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites. Fold whipped cream into egg mixture, then fold in ¾ cup of cookie crumbs. Spoon mixture into paper cups, garnishing with reserved cookie crumbs. Freeze until set. Before serving, top each tortoni with a maraschino cherry half. (To store, tightly cover each tortoni with plastic wrap and keep frozen for up two weeks.) Makes 9 to 12 tortoni, depending on the size of cups. *Kitchen Ade note: For the purposes of this recipe, Lazzaroni Amaretti Cookie Snaps were used. Forty cookies (6-ounces) yielded 1 cup cookie crumbs.