The Italian aperitivo fills that chunk of time after work and before dinner – usually between 6 and 8pm – and it’s a chance to catch up with friends and prepare your stomach for the main event. Granted, it’s not exactly a new concept in Italy, where it’s very much a time-worn tradition. But the ritual of relaxing over a drink and a small bite to eat is rapidly gaining momentum in the UK, and it’s not hard to see the appeal.
Two Italians who know full well just how much the trend is taking off are Nino Caruso and Andrea Zecchino. After a chance meeting in Manchester in 2013, they set up Veeno – an Italian wine café that’s famous for, you guessed it, aperitivo. Fast-forward three years and demand is so high they’re now opening their seventh branch, in Harrogate.
‘Aperitivo is a ritual in Italy – it’s when we gather with colleagues, family or friends to chill and relax after work with a glass of wine,’ says Nino, who sources all the wines from his family’s vineyard back in Sicily. So, how should a newcomer to the scene approach their first experience of aperitivo?
Aperitivo is an after-work affair, before you have dinner. ‘In Italy a meal would start with antipasto, then you’d have the first course – usually pasta – then the second course, of meat or fish, then dessert. Aperitivo comes before all of that. It’s a really relaxed way to finish the working day and start the evening.’
Drinks tend to be alcoholic and although there are plenty of popular options, including Aperol Spritz which is made with Prosecco and a bitter liqueur, Nino recommends a glass of wine. ‘I’d choose an Italian white wine rather than a red – we would tend to pair a red with bigger meals, like steak. In Italy you’d be sat outside in the sunshine, so white wine is a lighter and more refreshing choice.’
This isn’t the time to be filling your face with pasta, so save that for later. ‘I’d recommend choosing a few spuntini, or little dishes, to make up a cold sharing platter. The most popular combination at Veeno is a mixture of meats and cheeses. You can have classics like parmigiano reggiano cheese and Parma ham, or go for something that’s a bit less common over here – like salami with truffle.’
Particularly if you’re in Italy, there are certain things you’re probably best avoiding if you want to blend in with the locals. Nino explains, ‘We’re all about sticking to our authentic Italian roots, and in Italy pesto is for pasta – not bruschetta! The same goes for things like chicken with pasta, or – even worse – pineapple on pizza’. Noted, Nino.
So you’ve polished off your aperitivo, your antipasti, your primo and secondo courses, and your pud. Think you’re finished? Think again. ‘If you want a drink to round off your meal, go for something like Averna – a herb-based liqueur that will cleanse your palette. For something more national, try limoncello, although the best place to drink this is in Italy where it’s much more likely to be homemade.’
Author: Katie Gregory
Try the Hotel Excelsior on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Amongst other things, the area is famous for its Amalfi lemons, so make sure you try the local limoncello.
Stay at the Hotel Fiesta Garden Beach in Sicily. It’s in Cefalu, which is around a 3-hour drive from Nino’s family vineyard – Caruso & Minini, in Marsala.
The TUI FAMILY LIFE Baia di Conte takes inspiration from Sardinia’s sense of family, and it’s sandwiched between a private beach and a national park.
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