Some say aperitivo started with the ancient Romans, whose bitter spirits demanded the addition of wine. Now the canals of Venice and the alleys of Milan are flanked by Italy’s great amber cocktail, the Aperol Spritz and its inseparable companion; the aperitivo snack.
“Aperitivo gets you in the mood for food, but it’s also a ritual with great importance,” says Tony Nicolini, owner of D.O.C. Wherever aperitivo is part of the everyday, fine ingredients are not only celebrated, but expected. “The ingredients that go into these little tasty morsels are given the same respect as the ingredients in a wonderful dish,” says Nicolini.
Australia is just starting to build its own aperitivo tradition. “Once upon a time, at four in the afternoon, we would be preparing for dinner. It was often a downtime at the restaurants,” Nicolini says. Now D.O.C. serves premium-quality snacks with afternoon wines and cocktails. As Nicolini puts it, “aperitivo is very much alive”.
Here are Nicolini’s four perfect aperitivo snacks:
1. Aged Parmigiano-Reggiano with truffle honey
Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy is like champagne in France: it is taken incredibly seriously – it is culinary art. The most serious type is Stravecchio, a 24–36-month-old umami bomb with a texture between wax and bitter chocolate. It’s rich, hard and addictive. “Truffle honey drizzled over a piece of parmesan with a Spritz in the other hand is almost the perfect combination,” he says.
2. Artisanal grissini wrapped in San Daniele Prosciutto
Grissini are the crispy breadsticks you see in Italian delis and wine bars. Nicolini prefers his wrapped with one of the best cured meats on Earth, San Daniele Prosciutto. Like Parmigiano-Reggiano, the crimson-coloured meat has strict traditions around its production, ensuring the preservation of its distinct sweetness and richness.
3. Fried stuffed olives
Olive all’ascolana is a rural dish from Italy’s east coast. The tradition is to pickle and stuff green olives with beef, nutmeg, egg, Parmaggiano-Reggiano, lemon rind and cloves. They’re then crumbed and fried, making them texturally like an arancini but more powerful and nuanced in flavour. Due to its sheer deliciousness, it has spread to most afternoon espresso and cocktail bars.
4. Cubed buffalo mozzarella with aged balsamic
A great aperitivo snack is simply about using excellent ingredients. “Things that are simple, easy to manoeuvre and manage” are best, according to Nicolini. A ball of creamy, tear-apart, buffalo mozzarella with a dribble of sticky, sweet balsamic vinegar from a 12-year reduction is the height of that exact philosophy.