Leisure hour

Looking to create a feeling of la dolce vita as the summer months roll out? You’ve got all you the tools you’ll need in these two tomes on Italian-style drinking.

In our April issue, Jordan Mackay penned an ode to the aperitif, celebrating the fact that Americans are now clueing into what many Europeans have long known: A lightly bitter, low-proof cocktail works better than a strong drink to whet the appetite. In addition to several recommendations for new spirits to mix into your own aperitifs, he calls out two new books Aperitivo—and Spritz —that champion the form. Here’s a more in-depth look at what makes both those volumes essentials for your kitchen shelf.

In Aperitivo, Marisa Huff, a writer based in Padua who covered the Venice wine bar scene for Wine & Spirits last year, focuses on the aperitif as an integral part of northern Italian culture. Focusing on four cities—Turin, Milan, Padua and Venice—Huff records the distinctive drinking personalities of each via their favorite cocktails, and bar snacks to go with them, In Turin, for example, the focus is on Vermouth, while in Milan, Campari takes center stage. Huff, who also used to test recipes for food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, also supplies terrific recipes to match, like the addictive chickpea pancake called farinata, or focaccia, the just-right base for testing her eight takes on the Negroni—which she insists is one of Italy’s greatest contributions to the world, right alongside the Coliseum and the Vespa.

As Huff implies, aperitivo is the Italian version of the American happy hour, and according to the authors of Spritz, it is the precursor to the #spritzlife, Italy’s current leisure-time craze.

<em>Spritz</em> by Talia Baiocchi & Leslie Parisea (Ten Speed Press, $18.99)
Spritz by Talia Baiocchi & Leslie Parisea (Ten Speed Press, $18.99)
In Spritz, Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau, editor-in-chief and former deputy editor respectively of Punch, an online magazine covering the zeitgeist of drinking culture, examine closely the very Italian tradition of spritzing. As opposed to aperitivi, which open a meal, a spritz is generally defined as three parts prosecco, two parts bitter liqueur and one part soda (though, as the book demonstrates, the recipe is open to wide interpretation), and mixed up whenever the mood strikes.

Baiocchi and Pariseau have gone deep in this volume, studying why something so simple has held such a strong hold on the Italian way of life—particularly in Northern Italy. They trace the drink’s history back to Roman times, through the reach of Austrians during the Hapsburg Empire, and map its changing faces through the rise of Prosecco and the game-changing global marketing campaign of Aperol in the 1990s. They also provide recipes for both variations on the spritz and food to go with it—everything you need to get spritzing.

Aperitivo by Marisa Huff (Rizzoli, $35)

This is a W&S web exclusive review.