The lobby bar of the Patria Palace Hotel in Lecce stands like an altar for cocktails and all those exotic Italian Aperitifs. In a land where there may be more altars per capita than any where else we were happy to worship at this one, enjoyed on our recent trip to Italy.
You probably already know an Apéritif or Aperitivo is an herbal alcoholic beverage usually served before a meal to stimulate the appetite. The word comes from the Latin verb aperire, which means “to open.” Worthy of that root, they are colorful and lusciously stimulating and so much to enjoy.
It was still early in the day so we refrained and just sipped some delicious prosecco which is the base of perhaps the most famous Italian cocktail/aperitivo, the Bellini.
It is simply Prosecco, our preferred is Zonin, and fresh squeezed peach, pesca, that has been marinated in a little raspberry or cherry juice to impart a pink glow, chilled and served in a tall flute glass.
One would not really think of making one in October with our beautiful peach crop long since passed, but if you must, and we must, use a great peach nectar like Looza or Knudsen.
We had Bellinis at Harry's Bar in Venice in 2001. Our hotel was on the Grand Canal right next door. I'm always perfecting my recipe to make mine that good, but recreating Harry's celebrated atmosphere is just not possible.
Patria Palace Hotel bar came close for sure. Lecce is a magically gorgeous ancient city. It is considered by many Italians as the most beautiful in their country. And If I may digress, Lecce is as wonderful at night as it is during the day. We will have more on this.
But we are talking about aperitifs. They have a funny origin dating back to 1846, out of research by French chemist and Parisian wine merchant, Joseph Dubonnet, the namesake of the famous French aperitif, Vermouth. His concoction was created as means for delivering malaria-fighting quinine for the French Foreign Legion battling malaria in North Africa. He succeeded in making something that tastes awful, quinine, taste good. Dubonet’s wife found the drink so appealing that she had all her friends try it. The rest is history.
Soon thereafter Italians, being the creative souls that they are, began creating all sorts of a Aperitivi. Scores of them, many are still found in bars today.
One of the most well know is of course Campari, the lucious red bitter apertivo that is wonderful with soda and in many cocktails. The creation of Gaspare Campari in Novara, Italy in 1860 is a secret "infusion of herbs, aromatic plants and fruit in alcohol and water; these last two being the recipe's only known ingredients." "Some say there are 20 or 60 ingredients, but others think 80.
One of our favorite mixed aperativo is the simple "Americano".
It is built in a rocks glass with ice and garnished with a slice of orange.
1 part Campari
1 part vermouth Carpano Antica Italian Vermouth
1 part soda
We also love Aperol a drink made of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona originally created in 1919 by the Barbieri company in Padua. It delightful with soda or straight with a slice of orange and adds a nice element of complexity to many cocktails.
I bet you don't know that the classic Martini is of the Italian appertivo tradition.
Then there is the famous Negroni, I'll leave you with this video. That says it all much better than I can. CIAO!