We owe a lot of our culinary favourites to Italians - think espresso, pizza and gelato. But while the tradition of aperitivo might not be as popular just yet, it's only a question of time.
Simply put, enjoying aperitivo is about drinking and snacking with good company in the late afternoon or early evening. It's believed the tradition was born in the north of Italy in the 18th century, alongside the invention of vermouth. The fortified herbal wine is supposed to stimulate the appetite, making it the ideal pre-dinner drink.
While you can sometimes have an aperitivo before lunch, it's most common after work and before dinner.
"When I was young as a kid, I remember my dad, in the afternoon, on a really hot day, would say, 'Let's go to the bar and have an aperitivo!" recalls Matteo's chef Orazio D'Elia, who hails from the south of Italy.
"When I was young as a kid, I remember my dad, in the afternoon, on a really hot day, would say, 'Let's go to the bar and have an aperitivo!"
There are two different ways to have an aperitivo in Italy. You can order a drink, which comes with complimentary snacks. "It can be cheap and it's not fine dining. It can be leftovers from lunch like a pizza that you cut in small pieces," explains Perugia-born chef Andrea Fioriti.
You can also expect Italian staples like olives, cured meats (like prosciutto and salami), marinated vegetables, crostino, cheese (like mozzarella and pecorino) and grissini.
"We don't really mind what we eat for aperitivo. You pay for a drink and get food as well. It's mostly to drink and spend time with friends and talk. It's beautiful! You end up having four, five, six drinks and you don't go out for dinner," says Fioriti.
Aperitivo can also take the form of an 'apericena', which is a drink and a small plate of food from a buffet. You'll find all the usual aperitivo snacks, along with more substantial dishes like tuna pasta and cherry tomatoes.
The food served for aperitivo depends on the region. It won't be the same in Turin as it is in Palermo. "If I'm by the water, my favourite snacks would be a baby octopus skewer. If I'm by a mountain, a perfect slice of salami and cheese. Depending on where you are, it can really change," says D'Elia.
"If I have people over at my house, I'll organise drinks and we'll have little nibbles for people before dinner, like olives and sundried tomatoes stuffed with ricotta," he adds.
This drink is a cross between two very fine and classic Italian drinks, a peach bellini and a spritz. It would be perfect served in the afternoon or as an aperitivo. It’s a lovely balance between sweet and bitter and, thus, is perfect to have in one hand as you nibble snacks with the other.
Other than the popular Negroni, the cocktails associated with aperitivo are usually not too strong, allowing you to enjoy a couple. The Spritz, Americano, Negroni Sbagliato, Bellini or a glass of wine like Prosecco are all great options. If you prefer something non-alcoholic, Italian soda like Chinotto and Sanbitter will feature on most menus.
While there's no doubt you'll appreciate the food and drinks, aperitivo is really about the experience and the company. "The great thing about aperitivo is the vibe it creates between friends. It's one of the most beautiful things," says D'Elia.
Aperitivo in Australia
You can recreate aperitivo at home or go out to the growing list of Australian restaurants that have a dedicated aperitivo menu. Unlike in Italy, most of them will charge for food.
At Piccolino, in North Fitzroy, Fioriti's aperitivo is $15.00 and includes a drink and a selection of snacks. "It's inspired by whatever is happening on the menu at the moment. It could feature supplì, pecorino, marinated olives… It's what's in the fridge for that week's menu," he says.
Aperitivo is a year-round affair, but there's no better time than summer to experience its magic.
A cauliflower crust takes the stress out of making pizza at home for those eating gluten free. This recipe makes one large pizza.
Dotted with salty, meaty kalamata olives, this bread is a great starter served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
“This dish was inspired by all the gorgeous fresh produce I found at the Collingwood Children’s farm – a not-for-profit farmers’ market just five minutes from Melbourne’s CBD. Light and crisp eggplant tempura and a simple raw zucchini salad are the perfect companions for my decadent spice-baked cheese.” Rachel Khoo, Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook Melbourne
The Italian are highly gifted in the art of the aperitif, so this is inspired by those , perfect portable stuzzichini offered in many Northern Italian towns.
I acquired this recipe when working with chef Nuno Mendes in the kitchen of East London's Loft Project.
Based on a traditional financier, it is the perfect pairing of savoury and sweet.
I would make the batter a few hours before guests arrived and prompted by the ring of the front door bell, popped the trays in the hot oven.
Guests would then be greeted by the aroma of baked sweetness wafting around the room, opening the appetite as much as the aperitif itself.