It’s the best time of the day!
The aperitivo is one of the best examples of true Italian dolce vita. Especially in Italian cities, this cocktail hour is a golden moment when people meet for a drink after work and before dinner at a local bar for a typical Italian toppler – usually based on a bitter like Aperol or Campari – this is specifically meant to stir up your appetite before dinner with the herbal bitters within.
Popular drinks to order include the Spritz (Aperol or Campari with prosecco and a touch of soda), Negroni (gin, vermouth, Campari) or a simple Prosecco or glass of wine. Since in Italy you never drink alcohol without food, they will also serve you small salty snacks or finger food called stuzzichini – nuts, chips, crostini, cheeses, cured meats, olives and so forth – usually included in the price. Depending on what city you’re in, from Milan which is the iconic aperitivo city to Venice with its bacari wine bars, the spread will change…but the point of this ritual is to share a convivial moment with friends at the end of the day.
It’s fun and easy to recreate your own aperitivo at home, inviting friends or family to enjoy these easy-to-find Italian ingredients just like the Italiani! Here are recipes for a few classic Italian cocktails and snacks.
In recent years the Spritz cocktail, originally from Venice, has gained popularity around the world with its addictive refreshing, bittersweet flavor. It’s a cinch to make at home. You can choose your bitter liqueur according to taste. The classic Aperol Spritz recipe is:
- 2 ounces Aperol bitter liqueur
- 3 to 4 ounces Prosecco
- 2 ounces soda water
Add ice to a rocks or wine glass, pour the ingredients over ice, stir and add garnish of orange slice and skewered cocktail olive.
Feel free to change the bitter. Aperol is sweeter so some people use Campari instead or a combo of Aperol and Campari in a 1:1 ratio. There are other bitters available also; artisan quality amari will elevate the drink. If you don’t have soda water it also works with just Prosecco and bitter, though less fizzy.
Legend has this drink invented for Count Camillo Negroni in Florence at the old Caffe’ Giacosa. The Negroni is another classic Italian cocktail that has become trendy in many American bars and homes. It’s stronger and more bitter than a Spritz and not for everyone …but fans of the intense drink are devoted for life. The no-fail recipe is:
- 1 ounce London dry gin
- 1 ounce Campari
- 1 ounce vermouth rosso (like Martini Rosso)
Add the ingredients to a rocks glass over ice and stir. Garnish with a twist of orange peel. The vermouth can change from Martini Rosso to any favorite red vermouth. Attenzione…this drink packs a punch!
Dating back to 1860 from Gaspare Campari’s iconic bar in Milan, this classic Italian cocktail is a simple pairing of Campari and sweet vermouth with a splash of soda water. While originally called the Milano-Torino (Campari is from Milan, vermouth from Torino), over the years it became known as the Americano for its popularity with American tourists in the 1920s. The recipe is simple:
- 1.5 ounces Campari
- 1.5 ounces vermouth rosso
- splash of soda water
Add the ice to a Collins glass, pour the ingredients over ice, stir and add garnish of orange half-wheel.
This drink is lighter than its cousin the Negroni, which is derived from the Americano (gin substitutes the soda). You can gauge the taste with the soda water.
Typical Aperitivo Struzzichini
Here are some easy, classic snacks and nibbles – called struzzichini or finger foods – to serve at your aperitivo together with an Italian cocktail, wine or Prosecco. Italians never drink without food!
Salatini (salty snacks)
- Juicy olives
- Local nuts like pistachios and almonds
- Taralli (crunchy ring-shaped crackers)
- Grissini (thin breadsticks)
- Artisan chips
Italian Formaggi (cheeses)
- Top quality Parmigiano Reggiano in chucks
- Pecorino sheep’s milk cheese
- Caprino goat’s milk cheese
- Fresh mozzarella and so on…
Salumi or Salami?
Salumi is the plural Italian word for the family of cured meats; salami is plural for fermented salt-cured or cooked sausages (salame is singular)
- Prosciutto crudo (cured) or cotto (cooked)
- Salame piccante (spicy pepperoni)
Prepared Finger Foods
- Bruschetta – diced tomatoes with olive oil, salt, basil over garlic-smeared toasted bread
- Crostini – small toasted bread slices with various toppings like olive pâté; sun-dried tomato pâté; sautéed garlic mushrooms; soft goat cheese with smoked salmon, prosciutto, fresh fig or caramelized onions; unsalted butter with anchovies and many more…the sky’s the limit
- Prosciutto e Melone – slices of prosciutto served with slices of cantaloupe
- Mozzarella, Tomato and Basilico mini-kabobs – thread over a toothpick a full cherry tomato, a small piece of mozzarella cheese, half of a cherry tomato and a basic leaf and place on platter basil side down
- Grissini wrapped with prosciutto crudo
Cheers – Alla salute!