The holidays are upon us. It’s been a rough year and holiday gatherings may be a little awkward for many this year. As we travel to parties, grandma’s house or to the various places we gather with loved ones (who you may disagree with), you may be asking yourself, “What will make this better?” My suggestion? Italian cocktails.
I’ve got two suggestions of my favorite cocktails, both of which come from Venice. Either would be a perfect welcome drink to offer to guests. Both can be made in a pitcher, depending on how much, um, festiveness is required.
Prosecco is the base of both cocktails. It is a dry white sparkling wine that comes from the northern Veneto, sort of like an Italian champagne. It’s very inexpensive, you can buy it at Costco for about $7. I like to keep a couple bottles in the basement fridge, just in case. It’s good enough to drink alone, as an aperativo or to mix in cocktails such as a Mimosa.
You’ve probably seen my various pictures of a strange, bright orange concoction. It’s bright and electric orange. It’s a typical Venetian drink called Aperol Spritz.
Spritz is a general drink amongst Italian cocktails, one that includes soda water. If you ask for a spritz, you’ll be asked what kind. The standard choices are Campari or Aperol. Campari is a bitter red liquor, which some people like to drink over ice. Campari, to me, tastes a little like eating the white pith of a lemon….yuck. Aperol is the sweet cousin of Campari. It’s still a little bitter but mostly sweet. Many bars offer spritz in their own style, with designer liquors like Saint Germain, but I prefer the Aperol version above all.
Spritz should typically be imbibed with little finger foods, called cicchetti (chee-KETT-ee) in Venice. I like to serve it with appetizers such as stuffed mushrooms or crostini. You may consider limiting the number you serve, they taste like Kool-Aid but are surprisingly potent. I once served them in bottomless pitchers to a group. That was an unforgettable night for some… and impossible to remember for others.
There are lots of variations to the mixture, but this is my favorite.
Half glass Prosecco (any sparkling white wine will work)
One shot Aperol
Squeeze of fresh orange
Soda water, fill to top
Green olive on a stick to garnish
Mix all ingredients in a large, chilled wine glass. Stir well. An orange slice can be substituted for olives if you prefer.
Spritz is bitter and may not be for everyone. You may need to special order the Aperol from your local liquor store. If you’d like a crowd pleasing drink that is easy to source, you may consider my next suggestion instead.
The Bellini is another cocktail invented in Venice. This one is famous for being invented at Harry’s Bar, an overpriced American hangout frequented by Hemingway and other luminaries from the past. The story seems to be that, once upon a time, there was a special exhibit of the famous Venetian painter Bellini. His paintings are well known for the beautiful glowing skin of the Madonna. Giovanni Bellini, who worked in the early 1500’s, was one of the first painters in Venice to use oil colors, which give a depth and richness to the colors that had not previously been possible. The realism of his style and the softness of the women in his work made him famous as the first important Renaissance painter of Venice. He was the teacher of Venice’s most important painter, Titian.
You can buy a premade Bellini in a bottle, but this just won’t do. Italian cocktails should never be made this way. The color is wrong and it is not delicious. Using fresh ingredients is always best.
Half glass of chilled Prosecco
Peach nectar (I use Kern’s Peach Nectar)
A fresh, ripe peach or frozen peaches
Pour a half glass of Prosecco. In a blender, puree the fresh or frozen peach with peach nectar. Mix with Prosecco and garnish with a peach slice or mint sprig.
Enjoy a cocktail this holiday season while visiting family or friends. Not only will it taste great and bring smiles, but it’s a great way to change the subject. Example?
Family Member: “So, how about that election?”
You: “Here’s a cocktail. It’s Italian! I got the recipe from this blog I read. It’s about travel in Europe, have you been? Do you like Italy?”
And…pivot. Everyone likes to talk travel. Everyone likes Italian cocktails. Holiday disaster averted. You’re welcome.