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Aperitivo: Savor Italy's Tradition of Leisurely Socializing
Enjoy the relaxed pace and informality of a timeless continental style.
One of the reasons I became a restaurateur is that I love to entertain. And, one of my favorite ways to entertain guests follows the Italian Aperitivo style: informal and wholly intimate.
It’s a time to invite everyone – it can be a group of only friends after work or add family and have everyone all at once. This style is not about impressing people with your silverware and fine china. It’s all about the spirit of the gathering; making everyone feel welcomed and together as one happy group. It’s really a very simple way to socialize over light cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
Aperitivo is also not about impressing anyone with your kitchen prowess. Very often, Italians serve prepared foods that they’ve picked up at the local market to make it easier. Aperitivo itself is more of a prelude to dinner. In fact, the prefix ‘apero’ in Latin means to ‘to open’ – as in to open your stomach to get it ready for a lovely meal. So, the food is just that – small things. It is not meant to be dinner.
In Italy everything for the table revolves around what’s in season and it’s the same for the food for Aperitivo. That just means getting the ingredients that are in season and building a menu around those items. So even if you do decide to cook make sure that you keep your menu focused on what’s fresh in the farmer’s market right then. But for any aperitivo there is one snack item that is always included no matter the season – potato chips! Italians LOVE potato chips! They are prime aperitivo food even in the most fabulous hotels in Milan.
They also don’t worry about making sure that everything matches on the tabletop. In the Italian culture, like everywhere else in the world, they pass down their treasures through their families – linens, silver, glassware, china, et cetera. If you don’t have all of that, try visiting estate sales – I just wrote a blog about it. But – even if all you have is plastic and Melmac – go for it anyway. It’s the gathering that matters most.
A part of embracing the aperitivo style is getting familiar with the Italian habit of after work cocktails. It’s different from our Happy Hour where the focus is more on having drinks together with your friends. Italians like to sip, and they tend to talk more than they drink so the focus is more on the gathering than the drinking.
Because “friends and family” often means kids, welcome them at your aperitivo. Let them join in the snacking with virgin cocktails or smoothies. And, because we want it as intimate as possible, tell everyone to turn off their phones. A friend of mine collects all phones at the door (to be returned at the end). It’s a great idea—I think I’ll try that myself.
So, have an aperitivo! Mix up a batch of Negronis, add some small snacks and prepared foods from your market and enjoy!
Check out my video for more ideas on entertaining Italian-style.