Aperitivo is one of Italy’s friendliest traditions. In the evenings, after work but before dinner, friends gather in homes or bars for a spritz and a spread of light, local snacks. A reward at the end of the day and a chance to embrace life’s simplest pleasures: food and friendship.
On our first trip to Italy together, my husband was hoping to meet up with some friends in Milan, where he studied years prior. “We’ll meet you in Piazza del Duomo” they told us. I felt a rush. “Piazza del Duomo”. Perfect. They suggested we skip dinner entirely and recommended their favorite bar for aperitivo instead.
We ordered the traditional Aperol Spritz and with it came a one time trip up to the buffet where we found a delightful array of cheeses, olives, prosciuttos, and breadsticks, (which are called grissini in Italian), to perfectly complement the rest. Simple. Delicious. Filling for the body and soul.
What a happy time it is during aperitivo! Everyone is gathered around tables until the tables fill up and then friends spill over into the streets and piazzas. Chatter and laughter fill the air. You can’t help but join in the fun!
The tradition is not unlike our happy hour here, but instead of two for one drink specials, in Italy the experience is all about friendship and quality. You’ll rarely see Italians over-indulging. One refreshing cocktail, one satisfying plate, and that is plenty.
This is a tradition that is as easy as it is fun to incorporate into life with family and friends here at home. You can serve a cocktail or a soda as it’s more about the companionship and quality of the snacks you serve. An elegant presentation to impress, or something simple and tasty, creativity makes it all the more fun!
Whatever your style, Mia Emilia’s Handmade Michelis Egidio Breadsticks are the perfect place to start. If you choose to serve some fruit and veggies, the rosemary variety will be a beautiful complement. Do you love a good meat and cheese tray? The olive breadsticks are perfect. Play with all the flavors, you really can’t go wrong! Try them wrapped in a thinly sliced prosciutto and served with cantaloupe, one of Italy’s favorite combinations. For the perfect dessert with anything you serve, try the Classic white breadsticks with Mia Emilia’s Spreadable Hazelnut Cream. Caution: Your guests may never leave!
Of course, these breadsticks in all varieties are delicious and enjoyable on their own as a way to perk up on a workday, survive a long car ride, or hold off hunger until dinner time. Still, even on the most boring of days, one taste and you have to smile. The authentic flavors and Italian ingredients seal in the essence of their origin and the passion in the hands that stretched the dough.
On our last visit to Italy, I invited the manager of a property I work closely with to join us for dinner, she surprised me on our arrival by saying the Contessa who owns the property had instead invited us to come together to her home for aperitivo. Could we come at 7:00?
This Contessa had every reason to be pretentious, descending from a famous Renaissance family, her coat of arms still clearly present on the town walls. She was, however, one of the most unpretentious, kindest souls I have ever met.
She poured us a glass of prosecco, served us bread and preserves she had made herself, and we spoke of the Val D’Orcia. Weddings there, families who return year after year, watching their children grow up in these Medieval walls. We talked of the beauty of life and landscape until tears filled all our eyes.
During that hour our two worlds converged. It’s amazing how sharing a bite to eat and a glass of prosecco with a stranger can prompt real conversation that creates a lasting bond.
This is what food is all about in Italy. It serves to nourish, both mind and spirit. To foster friendships, both old and new.
I am a firm believer that the personality of a place survives in its products. By eating Italian, we absorb not only the pure ingredients of the land, but also the bright aspects of the culture. Companionship. Laughter. La Dolce Vita.