Aperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy – A Review

by artfuldiner on October 5, 2023

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wining and Dining

FROM THE BOOKSHELF: Marisa Huff, Aperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy… Recipes for Drinks and Small Dishes

Aperitivo - Front CoverWhat, precisely, is aperitivo…? Aperitivo – or apéritif – is a preprandial libation. Derived from the Latin aperire, the tradition is meant “to open” the stomach before dining.

Today, however, all over Italy, this simple libation has evolved to encompass those few hours – generally between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. – when people meet to relax over a glass of wine or light cocktail and a variety of finger foods. Since most Italians eat lunch around 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m., and dinner around 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m., this is also a good way to stimulate one’s appetite for the evening meal. Traditionally, aperitivo cocktails tend to be light on alcohol and bitter in taste, so as to pair well with salty snacks.

Marisa Huff’s Aperitivo explores this uniquely Italian phenomenon in depth, transporting readers on a fascinating travelogue from Turin (where modern Italian aperitivo began) to Venice (which the author describes as an aperitivo “wonderland”). And while aperitivo has often been likened to American “happy hour,” the author sets the record straight right at the outset:

“Unlike American happy hour, an Italian aperitivo has little to do with dollar tacos and drink specials. It consists of a glass of wine or cocktail and a bite to eat, the goal of which is not to get tipsy or spoil your appetite for dinner. Plus, bars in Italy may actually charge you more, rather than less, for a drink between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. (9 p.m. during summer). The markup is justified by the cornucopia of sophisticated Italian bar snacks that accompany your drink in more upscale watering holes (often at no extra charge).”

 Aperitivo - CrostiniEach chapter of the book focuses on a different city or region, and includes recipes inspired by the cocktails and small plates served in specific bars or simple variations on classic regional appetizers or ingredients. As noted above, with the arrival of vermouth, aperitivo made it debut in Turin with such libations as Vermouth Neat (served cold in a chilled short-stemmed wineglass or cordial), Vermouth Spritzer, or Vermouth on the Rocks with accompaniments like Oven-Roasted Eggplant and Fresh Goat Cheese with Pink Peppercorns. In Milan, it’s the invention of Campari that made the big splash, with cocktails like the Garibaldi (with fresh-squeezed orange juice), Americano & Vintage Negroni. Accompaniments include such delicacies as Lemon Potato Croquettes, Baked Mussels with Spicy Mayonnaise, Fried Shoestring Vegetables, and Lamb Chops alla Milanese. Venice is the final stop, savoring a Bellini, the classic combination of sparkling wine and white peach purée, made famous by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar… various Crostini (pictured) and Harry’s Bar Polpettine (small Italian meatballs) adding their own unique culinary contributions.

Aperitivo is a fascinating book for a variety of reasons… If you’re planning a party, it contains a slew of recipes for stylish & sophisticated cocktails (and intriguing variations thereof), as well as the innovative small plates to accompany them. But it is also an incredibly valuable travel resource, as it contains an appendix that provides the addresses, phone numbers, and hours of operation of each of the bars and restaurants mentioned.

Apperitivo: The Cocktail Culture of Italy is readily available from Amazon.com as well as numerous other sources online.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!


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