Aperitivo Hour

How to host your own version of Italy's happy hour tradition
August 8, 2019 Updated: August 8, 2019

Sitting around a table in the garden, chilled wine in our glasses, we pass around trays full of crostini and bruschette. It’s a balmy summer night, made for laughter, chats, and dreaming up projects for the future.

We talk about the holidays—where we’ve been, the people we’ve met, where we would love to go one day. We talk about work, about life, and about family, but mostly, we eat and drink. At the end of the day, it is time for an aperitivo.

The Italian aperitivo is a special moment. It’s a time to meet up with friends in a bar, a café, or an enoteca, and enjoy a drink and nibble on finger foods. Sometimes it evolves into a proper dinner if you move to a restaurant or order more substantial food, but more often you simply grab another drink, maybe another chunk of bread topped with your favorite cheese, and call it a day.  

This world-famous Italian ritual is considered to have been born in Turin in 1786, with the creation of vermouth by the Italian distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano. The aromatized, fortified wine became one of the first popular drinks enjoyed for an aperitivo. The idea quickly expanded to Milan, where in the 1920s, the modern concept of aperitivo took off.

roasted pepper bruschetta
(Courtesy of Giulia Scarpaleggia)

Components of an Aperitivo

An aperitivo starts with a bitter drink—think a Negroni, an Americano, or a Spritz—or a glass of wine. As a general rule, drinks are expected to be low in alcohol and bitter or dry, to gently open up your appetite for dinner.

As for the food, keep it simple: a bowl of fat olives and salty nuts, some raw vegetables dipped in good olive oil, a small selection of local cheese and charcuterie, and the main protagonists, an assortment of traditional bruschette and crostini.

When we Italians gather a bunch of people around a table, bread is always a main attraction, copiously sliced and topped with seasonal ingredients and traditional concoctions.

Bruschette and crostini, two examples of these ubiquitous snacks, are often confused, even on traditional restaurant menus. But there is a small difference between the two.

To make bruschette, slices of bread, ideally a sturdy country bread or a sourdough loaf, are roasted, traditionally over coals. The process is called “bruscare” in Italian. The simplest bruschetta is only rubbed with garlic and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

A crostino, a “little toast,” is usually smaller, and topped with a spread or a vegetable cream. The bread can be freshly sliced or toasted, totally depending on your tastes.

bread butter anchovies
(Courtesy of Giulia Scarpaleggia)

Tips

If you want to host your own Italian aperitivo at home, simply prepare a couple kinds of bruschette and crostini—playing with colors, textures, and flavors—and add a cheese and charcuterie board and a good bottle of wine.

When it comes to bruschette, I usually opt for seasonal vegetables—tomatoes and peppers are my go-to choices in the summer. For the crostini, I want something Tuscan to the core—try chicken liver pâtè for a special occasion, or the simplest combination of bread, butter, and anchovies to recreate a Tuscan summer night in your corner of the world. 

Each of the following recipes can easily be scaled up to feed a larger crowd.

RECIPE: La Bruschetta al Pomodoro (Tomato Bruschetta)

RECIPE: La Bruschetta ai Peperoni Arrostiti (Roasted Pepper Bruschetta)

RECIPE: Pane, Burro, e Acciuga (Bread, Butter, and Anchovies Crostini)

RECIPE: I Crostini Neri (Chicken Liver Spread for Crostini)

Giulia Scarpaleggia is a Tuscan born and bred food writer, food photographer, and author of five cookbooks, including “From the Markets of Tuscany.” Find her online at her blog, JulsKitchen.com.

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