Aperitivo - one of my favorite Italian words. There really isn't a perfect English equivalent because aperitivo is more than just a drink, less than a meal, and fundamentally different than the American happy hour. Aperitivo is a wonderful part of the Italian culture - a social interlude between late afternoon and the evening meal (which typically isn't eaten until around 8 or 9 p.m.).
Aperitivo time is around 6:30 or 7 p.m. and serves as a transition - a relaxing end to the day, a chance to connect with friends, and a slow meander toward dinner. We are not talking about a drink ordered at dinner and sipped while waiting for the meal to arrive. The aperitivo is an event all its own that most often occurs al bar (at the bar) before going to a restaurant to eat or before heading home for dinner. Italian bars are chameleons - the same bar that serves morning coffee becomes the perfect place for the evening aperitivo. How practical!
The Italian aperitivo consists of a glass of wine or a mixed drink plus a small appetizer. Traditional aperitivo drinks are on the lighter side - a prosecco or a glass of wine, a negroni (campari, vermouth, soda) or an aperol spritz. Most of the time small snacks arrive alongside the drinks. These may be as simple as a dish of peanuts or potato chips or may be as complex as a small buffet with bruschetta, miniature panini, or other savories. I've noticed the heartier offerings tend to start later in the evening, though this varies from bar to bar.
The bright orange drinks that everyone seems to be sipping on warm summer evenings in Italy are called aperol spritz. Aperol is a bitter made from oranges, herbs, and roots. It has a relatively low alcohol content (11 percent) which makes it perfect as an early evening drink. While the recipe for aperol itself is a secret, the spritz recipe is well known - mix 2 parts aperol with 3 parts prosecco and a splash of soda. Pour over ice and add a slice of orange. Simple! The slight bitterness may take a bit of getting used to, but after the first sip a spritz has a pleasing and refreshing taste. It's a typical aperitivo drink, made even better when sitting outside in a beautiful Italian piazza, with the sound of Italian chatter in the background, talking with friends or watching the theater of daily life in Italy.
Luckily, aperitivo is an Italian tradition that can easily be recreated at home. If you come to my house on a summer evening I'll be serving aperol spritz on the back patio, along with my favorite marinated cheese. There may even be Italian music playing in the background. Head on over - let's have an aperitivo insieme (together). -post by JMB