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When In Rome, Happy Hour Like a Roman

Stroll the sidewalks of Europe in the summer, you’ll see café table after café table topped with glasses of bright orange liquid.

It’s the ubiquitous Aperol spritz, featuring the century-old bitter orange and rhubarb liqueur that gives the cocktail its distinctive color.

We spent the summer of 2018 in Europe, and Aperol spritzes were the featured cocktail special everywhere from London to Lisbon. But nowhere was the drink more prominent than in Italy.

“It’s because it’s served over ice,” said my friend Caron Guillo. “There aren’t many iced cocktails in Italy.”

Caron is a professional travel planner who lived in Italy for a number of years, and her company, Soirée Travel Specialists, plans bespoke trips throughout Italy and around the world.

The Italian happy hour is known as the aperitivo, and she said she’s enjoyed many an afternoon sipping Aperol spritzes served with a snack of nuts or potato chips.

In fact, the snacks are one of my favorite things about European happy hours. Unlike the States, where cocktails are served by themselves, Europeans rarely serve alcohol on its own.

Whether you’re in a restaurant or someone’s home, drinks are accompanied by a small plate or bowl of something savory. It could be the nuts or potato chips Caron mentioned, or it could be a full spread that might include cured meats, salty cheeses, and freshly-baked bread. If you’re happy hour-ing in Italy, you might even find fried calamari in Venice, little triangular crustless sandwiches known as tramezzini in Rome, or delectable fried rice and mozzarella balls called arancini in Sicily.

Mr. Mike Ballard and I recently had Caron over for an al fresco aperitivo with the works. Alongside Aperol spritzes, we served grana padano, pecorino, and goat cheeses; olive oil-marinated mozzarella, artichokes, olives, and sardines; pepper-crusted salami and thinly-sliced prosciutto; salted Marcona almonds, fresh fruit, and assortment of crackers, including bruschettini, grissini, which are long, thin, crunchy breadsticks, and tarrali, which are little crispy bread knots.

My homemade addition to all of these lovely store-bought delicacies was mostarda di frutta. This tangy spread originating in northern Italy features candied fruit along with mustard oil, and it’s the perfect condiment for Italian cheeses. Rather than following the traditional mostarda process, though, which takes several weeks for the fruit to cure, I sped things up by starting with dried fruit; in this case, apricots and cherries.

The Italian aperitivo tradition is meant to whet your appetite before dining, and it’s a great way to get the evening started. If the spread is plentiful enough, it might even turn into dinner itself. So pour yourself an Aperol spritz, put out some snacks, and toast the beginning of summer — and the need for ice. Cin cin!

This week’s subscriber exclusives: One of my favorite happy hour tricks is to dress up something store bought and make it something special. Jarred olives become guest-worthy when you add fresh herbs and citrus, turning them into Mediterranean Herbed Olives.

And of course you can’t have an Aperol spritz happy hour without a Classic Aperol Spritz.

Subscribers to Around the World in 80 Plates have access to both of these delightful Italian aperitivo offerings.

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Apricot and Cherry Mostarda di Frutta

Mostarda isn’t mustard. There’s mustard seed in it, but it isn’t spicy like mustard. And it isn’t overly sweet, despite the fact that it’s made with fruit. It’s a complex combination of these flavors and more, and it’s terrific as a condiment served alongside salty cheeses on a charcuterie board.

It’s also delicious atop goat cheese or cream cheese on your morning bagel or toast, and it’s fantastic on a turkey sandwich, too.

1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
2 teaspoons crystallized ginger
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce head to low, cooking for 10 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, leaving the lid undisturbed, and allow to rest for an additional 10 minutes. Can be served warm or at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator. Makes approximately 2 cups.

For $5 a month, you can get an additional weekly issue of Around the World in 80 Plates that includes bonus recipes not available to the public.

This week’s subscriber exclusives:

  • Mediterranean Herbed Olives: One of my favorite happy hour tricks is to dress up something store bought and make it something special. Jarred olives become guest-worthy when you add fresh herbs and citrus.
  • Classic Aperol Spritz: You can’t have an Aperol spritz happy hour without the classic Venetian cocktail itself.

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Food and folklore from my travels to over 100 countries.

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