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"It's so beautifully arranged on the the plate – you know someone's fingers have been all over it." – Julia Child

Posts from the Beverages Category

The end-of-day drink is a fairly common affair, whether it’s a swig from the small bottle hiding in an office desk drawer or a few beers with colleagues on the way home. There’s a perfunctory air to some of these evening proceedings, and sometimes, as in the case of happy hours run amok, a debauched one. But in Italy, the pre-dinner cocktail is a much more refined and stylish event. It’s not that the settings are snobbish or expensive, it’s more a matter of the activity being a respected ritual.

An aperitivo is an Italian cocktail designed to tease the appetite in preparation for supper. The alcohol content of the ingredients used to mix the drinks is fairly low, as the point is not to send anyone home completely sauced. You’re probably familiar with vermouth, Campari, and Aperol, so you’re already off to a good start in the art of aperitivo. Following are a few simple drinks and recipes — because aside from sophisticated sipping, small bites are an indispensable part of the custom.

And, if you’re feeling inspired be sure to pick up our friend Marisa Huff’s beautiful book Aperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy for more recipes and tips on how to eat and drink like an Italian. Cin cin!

 

CAMPARI SPRITZ

The lush tomato-red color of Campari makes is enough to imagine Sophia Loren speeding in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Campari is a bitter liqueur made from an infusion of bitter herbs, aromatic herbs, alcohol, and water—the exact recipe is of course, a secret.

To make a spritz, combine in a wine glass:

3 parts dry white wine, still or sparkling
2 parts Campari
1 part club soda

– Add ice and garnish with an orange wedge and/or a green olive.

– If you prefer a sweeter and less dry spritz, substitute the Campari with Aperol.

MASCARPONE AND HAZELNUT TRAMEZZINI
From Aperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy by Marisa Huff

Tea sandwiches are not just the thing of picnics and proper tea tables. In Italy, the crust-less white bread sandwiches (tramezzini) are the ideal sidekick to a cocktail.

*If you can’t find truffle paste, Marisa recommends replacing half the mascarpone with gorgonzola dolce or gorgonzola piccante.

Makes 6 half sandwiches

2 cups mascarpone (from an 8-ounce/250-gram container)
1 teaspoon white truffle paste*
6 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

– In a medium bowl, using a fork, mix together the mascarpone and white truffle paste until smooth. Arrange three slices of bread on a cutting board or other flat surface. Spread the cheese mixture across each slices, dividing it evenly. Close with the remaining bread slices and press down gently so that the cheese reaches the edges of the bread. Cut in half to make six sandwiches. (We spread a bit of cheese on the edges of the sandwiches, too).

– To finish, dip all four sides of each sandwich in the chopped hazelnuts, which will stick to the cheese.

THE EASIEST SNACKS

We are frequently asked for easy entertaining ideas, and in general, our approach is to either prep in advance or go to the no-fail crudités-and-dip or cheese and charcuterie boards. You can simplify even further and serve olives, nuts, and Italian meats and cheeses if you decide to try an aperitivo gathering at home. Of course, shop for good ingredients or risk having your cocktail hour spread resemble an airplane snack box.

PERFECT EGG SALAD

Please forget the crusty egg salad you see piled up in the deli case before you continue reading! This version has absolutely nothing to do with that. It is a velvety luxury that goes well on toast, on a bagel under layers of smoked salmon, and in this case, on crusty Italian bread alongside a crisp aperitivo. Oh. And you can use it as a dip for potato chips, too.

4 large eggs
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Mayonnaise
4 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled (optional)
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 shallot, minced
1 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained (optional)
½ cup watercress, chopped, plus additional for sprinkling
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Extra-virgin olive oil

– The richness of this egg salad comes not only from mayonnaise, but from the natural goo of a runny egg yolk. Usually, when we hard-boil our eggs, we start them in cold water. However, since what we want is a firm white and a fluid yolk, we’ll start with boiling water. So:

– Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Gently lower the eggs into the water and boil them for 6 minutes exactly. Drain the eggs, run them under cold water for a minute or two, and return them to the saucepan. Shake the eggs until the shells are cracked all over, then peel them under gently running water. You’ll see how easy it is.

– Smash the eggs in a medium bowl with a fork and season them with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and the remaining ingredients. Stir everything together and adjust the salad with more anchovy, capers, mayo, etc. to taste.

– Spoon the egg salad on bread, drizzle it with extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with chopped watercress.

My partner in crime, Maria has been on location for a bit, so I whipped up one of my basics to share on the blog. Almond milk has  been one of my favorite milk alternatives for years. It’s a simple process, and so worth the effort. Trust me, once you make your own, you’ll never buy it in a store again.

I’m a bit of a purist, and I like to keep my milk on the simple side. That said, there are multiple ways to jazz it up if  you’d like. I have some recommended variations that follow the recipe.

One of my recent obsessions is Dorset Maple Reserve -Vermont Maple Syrup, Bourbon Barrel Aged.  It is amazing! I’ve been using it to sweeten my almond milk and my coffee.

ALMOND MILK

Makes about 3 cups

1 cup raw soaked almonds
3 ½  cups filtered water
pinch of good salt
sweetener of choice – maple syrup, honey, agave
cheese cloth or nut milk bag
blender

– Soak the almonds in filtered water for at least 6 hours, or just soak overnight.

– Drain, rinse and place the almonds in a blender.

– Add the 3 ½ cups of filtered water and the salt.

– Blend on high for about 2 minutes. Taste, and add a sweetener if desired. I prefer maple syrup, but use what you like. Start with a small amount, about  ½ teaspoon. You can always add more if you need it.

– Strain the almonds with a cheesecloth-lined strainer, or a nut milk bag. Press or squeeze the milk through the strainer in order to get all the milk.

– Store the milk in a jar in your refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Variations: Try adding cinnamon, vanilla bean or vanilla extract, trading out the almonds for raw cashews or raw Brazil nuts.

– You can save the almond meal to use for  things like “breading” for chicken, fish, pork, or casseroles. It can also be added to oatmeal, smoothies or yogurt as a topping.

– Simply line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake at 200°F for about 2 hours until it is dry and crumbly. Store in an airtight container.

-If you decide to make nut milk more than once, a nut milk bag  will really come in handy, and they’re environmentally friendly. There are plenty to choose from.

 

You’ve hopefully detoxed from holiday party extravaganzas and have settled back into the day-to-day routine. But, if your resolutions are already in danger of being ignored, at least opt for changing up your eating and drinking routine. Start with this shrub—  a drink with bright and zesty flavors made with ingredients that you’ll find pretty surprising!

And if you’re wondering what on earth this “shrub” thing we’re talking about is, here’s a quick introduction: Shrubs are fruit-flavored sweetened vinegars that originated in colonial America as a method of preservation. They’ve had a resurgence in the more recent past, particularly in the cocktail world.  The combination possibilities are practically endless: you can mix and match vinegars (from champagne to apple cider) with fruits, and for extra flavor, herbs.  Stir them into basic cocktails like gin-and-tonics for a unique twist or pour them, like in the following, into some bubbly. Teetotaler? Sub the sparkling wine with sparkling water.

SCARLET SIPPER

For the Shrub
Makes about 2 cups

1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
12 ounces beets, scrubbed, peeled, and cubed
1 cup fresh mint
¼ cup fresh thyme leaves

– In a quart-sized container with a lid, combine the sugar, vinegar, and ginger. Cover container and shake to combine.  Add the beets and mint, ensuring that everything is submerged. Add more vinegar if needed.

– Cover the container and let stand for 2 days in a cool, dry place, shaking every 6 to 8 hours to redistribute the ingredients.  Strain the shrub and discard the solids.  The shrub will keep for up to 3 months in the refrigerator.

For the Cocktail
Makes 1

– Fill a highball or other glass with ice. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons shrub and top with prosecco or champagne. Garnish with fresh thyme and mint, if desired.