by Valentina Zampini
There’s more to this ancient tradition than Aperol, so stock up on ingredients and go wild like I do
The origin of spritz, like most things, dates back to the Roman Empire – where wine was infused with herbs and drunk by adding water. In the nineteenth century, when the North East of Italy was under Austrian rule, the Austrian soldiers who found the local wine too strong would spritzen (spray) water to dilute their glassful.
And so, a legend was born.
Aperivivo (the Italian Happy Hour) and spritz cannot be separated. Taken from the Latin word aperire meaning to open – your stomach – to a meal, it is an innate Italian way of life. Italian dining culture is governed by a myriad of repeating patterns: morning espresso, long lunch – pasta is always the first choice – followed by aperitivo after work. The time given to every break is religious and makes lifestyle more convivial. At its heart is the all-encompassing notion of relaxing and enjoying your drink without constantly checking your watch. It is about pacing yourself and forgetting about your worries. It’s what I call “la Dolce Vita”.
When I moved to London, spritz was served in few Italian places but nibbles as Italians know them were nowhere to be seen. The average Italian aperitivo has overfilled wooden boards with pizza, bread, focaccia, cured meats, olives and all sorts of fried snacks – from vegetable fritto misto to arancini. It can evolve to apericena (a joint aperitivo and dinner) where, for a slightly overpriced drink, you get access to a larger buffet with pasta dishes, risotto, cured meats, cheese. I have been in some posh bars where apericena offered prime cuts of meat and fish cooked in front of you.
The spritz list in Italy is a serious affair and Aperol is just the beginning. Other options include classics such as Campari , Select – the Venetian Aperol, Cynar – a herb-based liquor for the bitter-taste lover, and countless iterations evolving gin and all sorts of other spirits.
I always encourage my friends to have aperitivo. It’s a great excuse to practise an Italian spread at home and improve your spritz skills. The spritz recipe is easy: three parts prosecco, two parts aperitif liqueur of your choice, one part soda water. But I always tell people to let their inner bartender shine through.
I like to lay a whole variety of ingredients out on the table so that we can all experiment to create weird and wonderful spritz concoctions. Some leave a lot to be desired, but there are occasional strokes of genius. One of my friends drizzled some balsamic vinegar- intended to accompany the focaccia- along with pink grapefruit juice and some sparkling rose’ and it become my spritz of the summer!
Next time you’re in the supermarket ,put some classic Italian bits and pieces into your basket. Charcuterie, parmesan and pancetta, fluffy focaccia, a few bottles of Italian classic bitters and prosecco and you’ll have all you need on hand for the perfect Italian happy hour.