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!
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
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.