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This Is What Aperitivo Looks Like

Aug 3, 2021Story: MARTINI & ROSSI® Art: Lizzie Munro

“The food of aperitivo hour is the one thing that really transports me to Italy,” says Missy Robbins, chef and owner of two popular Italian restaurants in Brooklyn and author of the forthcoming book, Pasta: The Spirit and Craft of Italy’s Greatest Food. “While I love so many things about Italian lifestyle, this ranks at the top of the list.”

As a tangible concept, aperitivo refers to both the occasion and the drink itself, which is often bittersweet and low-ABV, and sometimes even bubbly. But there’s also the intangible element: the laid-back atmosphere, the in-between moment of daytime proper and imminent evening.

“What I feel is special about it is that it’s very democratic,” says Sara Porro, a food and travel writer based in Milan, of the Italian cultural cornerstone that is aperitivo. “People of every age and social group do it. You can take Grandma out for aperitivo, unless she’s already there with her friends.”

“Aperitivo is the daily occasion for Italian people placed before dinner,” says Fabio Raffaelli, the North American brand ambassador for MARTINI & ROSSI®, who grew up in Milan. “And a kind of social occasion for us, too.” For him, the single rule of the occasion is quite simple: You should drink something with herbs and spices that will open your stomach; not a digestivo, but rather its opposite.

(The concept can confuse the uninitiated. Porro recalls an American friend who would propose going for an aperitivo after dinner. “That’s a nightcap, my friend—or what here in Italy we’d call a bicchiere della staffa, or the ‘stirrup cup.’”)”

“Aperitivo is the daily occasion for Italian people placed before dinner, and a kind of social occasion for us."

Aperitivo’s classic cocktails are familiar to all of us by now. There’s the stalwart Negroni, equal parts MARTINI & ROSSI® Bitter Liqueur, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® gin and MARTINI & ROSSI® Rubino Vermouth di Torino. Swap the gin for Prosecco and you have a Negroni Sbagliato, made famous at Bar Basso in Milan. Make one further swap—this time sparkling wine for seltzer—to achieve a long drink, the Americano, seemingly tailor-made for a sweaty Roman afternoon. And one can’t forget the reigning queen of the global aperitivo movement, the Italian Spritz, which, at one part MARTINI & ROSSI® Bitter Liqueur to three parts sparkling wine, became a gateway to aperitivo culture for so many outside of Italy.

Yet a fresh, cold and slightly bitter drink is only one part of the ritual. To complete it, a bit of something to eat is essential, which Raffaelli says is epitomized by small bites. “Not pasta or pizza,” he insists. “These are items we enjoy as a full dinner. Nuts, olives, chips—these are things you find everywhere in Italy.” Robbins seconds that, saying that her aperitivo essentials must include “salty snacks ranging from spicy soppressata to olives, cheese, taralli and nuts.”

Dan Sabo, director of food and beverage at the a high-end venue in Los Angeles, agrees that one can’t aperitivo without snacks—but also music. “Even if it’s just an olive in your spritz, you need a nosh,” he says. “And since aperitivo is a mood as much as anything, music is a necessity… It should be totally open to personal preference, but I think those two things are pretty crucial to the process.”

Blessedly, it couldn’t be easier to transport yourself to an Italian piazza at aperitivo hour: “Wherever you have ice, a bottle of [red bitter], some olives and a bag of chips, there you have yourself an aperitivo,” says Porro.


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