The Italian Happy Hour

At around 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, many Italians adhere to another tradition — it’s called apperitivo in some parts of the country, spuntino in others, and chicchetti in still others. It’s a collection of small plates usually eaten with a non-alcoholic drink.

Many people have to return to work for the early evening hours and dinner, or la cena, won’t be eaten for many hours. The bites may be simple but always fresh. You can enjoy these times at the end of a long day of sight-seeing without sitting down for a full meal. In most places, they charge for the drinks but not for the food (or very little). It is a great custom to recognize that the day is slowing down and for regrouping. For Italians, it’s a way to gather (they love to gather) near the end of the workday, before everyone returns to their families at home.

Here are some ideas for apperitivi you can make at home:

  • Simple focaccia with fresh herbs like rosemary or sage.
  • Slices of fresh fig with a drizzle of honey and topped with a small piece of prosciutto. A great combination of salt and sweet.
  • Small buns or dinner rolls with a mixture of melted provola or provolone cheese, minced fresh rosemary, heavy cream, and prosciutto pieces.
  • Squares of brioche bread topped with mozzarella di buffula and oven roasted tomatoes.  Use taleggio cheese for a more tangy version.
  • Toasted country bread topped with sautéed mushrooms, garlic and capers and topped with fresh parsley.
  • Crostini or toasted country bread slices with sauteed white beans, pancetta, and garlic.  You can add sausage or fennel seed or stracchino cheese if you like.
  • Cherry tomatoes, stuffed with fresh cheese and herbs.  I recommend a good Emmenthaler with chopped celery leaves.