Tortoni was a dude, but Tortoni was also a restaurant - confusingly, Tortoni is also an iced dessert. Still with me? Let's try and make sense of this culinary conundrum.

Tortoni the restaurant was established in Paris in 1798 by a fellow called Velloni. The head clerk of the establishment, an Italian - one M. Tortoni soon after took the helm, and bestowed the joint with its enduring name. It was located at the intersection of Rue Taitbout and the Boulevard des Italiens, and was - in its time the most celebrated establishment of its type in Paris - serving cold plates and iced desserts. If you were in the Paris "IN" crowd of the time, you walked Tortoni's steps.

R. Héron de Villefosse in his 1834 Parisienne commentary, Historie géographique et gourmande de Paris stated that

"In the morning, its excellent cold lunches brought in the stockbrokers, bankers and the fashionable set from the Chaussee d'Antin. At four o'clock, the speculators from the stock exchange met in front of its façade....Finally, in the evening, the regular customers from the Boulevard came to savour the imperial tea and the flavour of the iced pyramids in the shape of fruits and plants...."

This moves us along to ice cream. This frozen confection consists of eggs, sugar and cream - all cooked, churned and frozen to perfection. There however, are variants. The Italian semifreddo and the French Parfait are two wonderful frozen confections that don't require an ice cream machine. They are simply a cooked custard that has whipped cream folded through, and then frozen in a molded shape.

Tortoni, the namesake dessert, makes the process even easier - and tastier. This baby is fruit based and doesn't even request that you make a custard. If you are thinking ahead here, you may be guessing that this is an easy frozen dessert made just for you.

You could really use any fruit for this dessert, but stone fruit such as peaches and nectarines work particularly well. Just make sure that if the fruit you are using is hard(ish), such as nectarines - you will need to cook them first.

The texture of the finished product is wonderful. If you have been weaned on the air laden and stabilizer-ridden ice creams such as Baskin Robbins, then you may be in for a shock. This treat has a zingy, icy texture more in line with sorbet (or sherbet). It also has the wonderful fresh fruit flavour shining through, combined with the adult kick of vodka - here's how to.


Ingredients

  • 3 Poached white nectarines (or use other stone fruits)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 3 egg whites
  • 50 ml (2 fl oz) Good vodka
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 350 ml (1 1/2 cups) cream, whipped to stiff peaks.
  • Method

    Remove the skin from the nectarines and cut in half. Remove the stones and place in a food processor with the lemon juice and vodka. Pulse until the mixture is well pureed. In a Mixmaster, beat the egg whites until soft peaks begin to form. Add the sugar, in a thin stream and continue beating until the whites look glossy and firm - about 3-4 minutes. Place the nectarine puree in a large bowl and fold in the whipped cream. Gently fold in the egg white mixture until it is thoroughly incorporated, but don't over beat. You don't want to lose the air from the whites and cream.

    Pour this mixture into a terrine or loaf tin that is roughly 26 cm (11 in) long, cover with cling film and freeze overnight.

    Remove from the freezer half an hour before serving to soften the dessert a little. Yumski!

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