One of my favorite customs while traveling in Italy last summer was the evening apertivo, the Italian equivalent of our happy hour usually held between the hours of 6pm-8pm, with dinner not starting until later that night (8 pm being super early for dinner there!). When I returned home from this trip, I found myself still lusting over their way of closing the day and enjoying a luxurious moment of pure enjoyment. So I decided to continue this lovely ritual on my own--one of the many things I took back from that trip. Now I find that there is no better way to enjoy that Italian lust for life and good food than to indulge in a little apertivo of my own at home.
Maybe I am romanticizing Italy (yes, yes I am), but the apertivo there is more than just throwing back a drink to unwind from the day or hitting the bar before you head home. It is more of a ritual, a transition from work to dinner. It is where people slow down and pause to close out the end of the day. There is a softness to it that a happy hour (at least in my experience) doesn't have.
Apertivo consists of a drink, like a spritz or other refreshing cocktail, and a few light snacks, ranging from simple potato chips and nuts to more elaborate treats like crostini.
I usually have apertivo on a Saturday, when I can really enjoy it. I make a cocktail and put together a few little nibbles to hold me over until dinner. The trick is to use what you have on hand already--olives, a good cheese, some sun dried tomatoes. It is about waking up the palette before dinner, not filling up on appetizers. It's also a great time to catch up with your loved ones. Nothing creates the fun weekend vibe like playing jazz records over a few easy treats and a special drink to ease into the evening festivities.
Here are a few ideas to get you started--and help you keep your fridge stocked:
1. Aged Gouda and preserved lemons. Both can be found at your local health food or gourmet store. The caramel of the Gouda balances nicely with the salty citrus pop of the quintessentially Italian lemon preserved in olive oil and salt.
2. Olives. Use apertivo hour to try new olives beyond the Calamata or the cocktail olive. Lately, I've been in love with the green, buttery Castelvetrano olive and the fat avocado-like Luques olive.
3. Veggies. It's easy to use some of the perfect farmers' market produce as crudites to dip in some aioli or pesto as a quick apertivo. Or you could put out a little platter of pickled veggies. Like the preserved lemon, quick pickled veggies add a refreshing pop of flavor to pair with rich cheeses or an equally bright cocktail, like my lavender gin gimlet.
4. Fruits. If you want to dress up your fruit options, you can try my prosciutto wrapped apricots or pair them with a nice cheese like an easy homemade ricotta or cured meat. Of course, summer-ripe fruit is perfect on its own!
5. A good cocktail. The Italians are fond of sparkling wine-based cocktails, so you could whip up my limoncello spritz or, if you prefer a drink with the bubble but not the wine, try your hand at a gin & tonic or a gin fizz. You can also never go wrong with a nice glass of wine.
...the list of apertivo options can go on and on. The trick is to have fun experimenting with different treats and drinks that make your night extra special, turning it into a weekend ritual rather than just another evening. So the next time you want to elevate your evening meal or simply transition from work to play, consider starting your own apertivo hour with a good cocktail and a few treats scavenged from your fridge!
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