THE VENETIAN APERITIVO
A spritz, of course, is strictly speaking a drink made by mixing white wine, Campari (or another bitter) and sparkling water. But in Venice, lo spritz is much more than a local aperitif: it is a cultural institution. The drink lends its name to that time of the day when, as the sun begins to go down, you meet with friends and open a bottle, sharing a few simple olives or salted almonds and a few cicheti.
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Cicheti – ‘small bites’ – are as important a part of lo spritz as the drink itself. It is food designed to be social, traditionally eaten out and usually standing at a bar. But what I like most is when friends come to us and we enjoy a lazy spritz at home. Sometimes I will mix up a big carafe of spritz proper or, when peaches are in season, I can’t resist making everyone a bellini. Other times, we do little more than open a bottle of white wine or prosecco – the true drink of choice in Venice, either by itself or as a mixer.
MY PERFECT SPRITZ
Every barman has his own ratio of ingredients for a spritz, just as every Venetian has their own preferred way of drinking it. Of the various bitters, Campari, Aperol and Select are the most famous, and Cynar – a curious dark liquor made from artichoke petals – is the most exotic. The three non-negotiables are: ice, an olive and a slice of citrus. To mix a spritz my way: fill a glass with ice and pour over one part prosecco, one part bitter and one part soda water. Garnish with a briny olive and a slice of orange. Feel free to play around with my ratio, adjusting it to your taste.
Classic cocktails have a magical ability to lend old-world, white-glove glamour to even the most mundane of days. Harry’s Bar, where the bellini was first created, famously uses peach juice from a tin. I much prefer to use the beauteous sweet fruit. To make up a generous jug of bellini: skin, halve and stone 3 or 4 white peaches (or use yellow ones). Roughly chop the flesh and blitz in a blender until smooth, then chill. Mix one part peach purée to three parts chilled prosecco.
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