Some say aperitivo started with the ancient Romans, whose bitter spirits demanded the addition of wine. Whatever the reason, the canals of Venice and the alleys of Milan are flanked by bars serving Italy’s great amber cocktail, the Aperol Spritz, and its inseparable companion; the aperitivo snack.
“In Milano there's a place called Trattoria Toscana. The food just keeps coming and the place feels like a party but it could be a Tuesday night. I love it.” That’s aperitivo as described by Flavio Carnevale, owner of Italian restaurant Popolo. The art of afternoon eating and drinking is one of his great loves.
“Every Friday afternoon, it is a ritual,” he says. Aperitivo is a great Italian tradition, which commands as much respect as any of the country’s great culinary customs. It’s a tradition that Australia has only recently adopted, and now it’s here, whether you’re dining at Popolo or eating at home, you too can join the aperitivo revolution.
Here are Carnevale’s top-four aperitivo snacks:
1. Spiedino di mare
Spiedini are chargrilled Italian meat skewers, generally separated by folded sheets of zucchini or molten mozzarella. In the South or near the Amalfi coast (where Carnevale grew up) seafood is the skewer of choice, most often drizzled with lemon.
2. Prosciutto with schiacciata
Popolo’s wood-fired oven isn’t just for pizza. Carnevale and his team also make a crisp-edged, fluffy-centred schiacciata flat bread, which they top with almost anything. Because it’s going to be paired with a summer cocktail, its best with something salty and punchy, like a strip of prosciutto, Carnevale says.
3. Potato croquette
Carnevale, like most coastal Italians, is a sucker for fried food, particularly when his ungreased hand is holding a spritz. Croquettes, served crumbly and hot, are an aperitivo staple, he says.
4. Crostini melanzane
Crostini can be a lot of things – stale sourdough, grilled ciabatta or a baked baguette – the key is the crunch. “They’re a true classic. You can have crostini topped with anything. My favourite is the marinated eggplant with buffalo mozzarella and basil.”