Lush Life

To be a lush chef, does not mean to drink in excess - this can result in scary fires and bad dishes. A lush chef is one who enjoys gourmet cooking/baking, often with fresh ingredients and the smart use of one's home bar. If there happens to be half a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a sip of brandy left over...well, one cannot be wasteful. I give you permission to imbibe.

About Me

My Photo
The Lush Chef
Twitter: @thelushchef Provenance: Santa Monica Dish: Coq au Vin Spirit: Whiskey Wine: Malbec Beer: Hefeweizen Farmer's Market: Santa Monica on Main Street
View my complete profile


Powered by Blogger.
May 16, 2013

Aperitivo Time

The Lush Chef and her family recently returned from a 10 day trip through Italy, where we literally walked, ate, walked, drank, walked some more and ate and drank to our heart's desire through Florence, the Tuscan and Umbrian countrysides and finally ending in Rome.  Surprisingly, one can actually lose weight in Italy with the Lush Chef family's walking and eating regimen.  I highly recommend it.

Hotel cappuccinos put pretty much every US coffee shop cappuccino to shame, the best mozzarella and mortadella was consumed in every osteria we picked, gelato was deemed the perfect substitute for an actual lunch, and porchetta was shaved off in thick slices with plenty of "crostini" (the crispy, salty skin) at street stalls and served with little more than a fresh baked roll and some salt.

Huge slabs of meat were hacked off a cow in full-view by whom I've now deemed the meat cleaver-wielding "steak nazi,"and was proudly presented to us before he grilled it up at Osteria Acquacheta in Montepulciano.  And we drank plenty of that earthy Vino Nobile in the same glass as our acqua frizzante because of the proprietor's one glass policy — the glare you'll receive if you ask for another glass is just not worth it.  There was my brother's instant love of amaro (I'm such a proud sister) after sipping from my glass of Averna while perched at a table upon a hilly cobblestone street in Siena and tucking into our coffee crème brûlée.
My brother fully became enamored with amaro after our nearly daily stops for aperitivo.  It was our first day in Florence, dinner was late (per the Italian custom) and we were attempting to combat the tiredness from our overnight flight into Rome, the train ride into the city and the hours of walking to take in the sights.  My mom is a huge chocolate fan and was stopped dead in her tracks by the confectionary display at Gilli, a bar, cafe, candy store and restaurant that has been in the Piazza della Reppublica since 1733.  Being the lush that I am, my eyes wandered to the massive marble bar, and the impeccably dressed barista garnishing some Aperol Spritzs with orange slices.  My dad and my brother's eyes settled on the massive buffet of olives, cheeses, meats and other appetizers laid out on the bar.
Aperitivo is like happy hour in the US, but a hundred times better.  Starting around 6:00pm until about 9:00 or 10:00pm, and for about 6-10 euro (8-12 dollars), folks gather at the bars for a pre-dinner drink or "aperitivo" and a free buffet.  Some of the buffets were simple in nature — potato chips, taralli (pretzel-shaped spiced crackers), olives, pickled vegetables, cured meats and cheeses.  While others got a little more extravagant and put out a wide range of tapenades, vegetable spreads and little stews and casseroles.  Of course, if you're a true Italian or just want to fit in, don't go up to the bar a bunch of times and stuff your face.  Italians don't drink to just drink like so many American college co-eds.  If they're going to have any kind of alcohol, it's always going to be with food.  So put on a "bella figura" and be classy.  We quickly got addicted to this time of day.  After hours of sight-seeing, we always needed a moment to just sit, rest our legs, have a snack and a stiff drink.  My dad especially, since he braved Italian traffic with a stick shift on many of these days.  He's a saint.  And we prayed to many to help us navigate those endless traffic circles.

My dad enjoyed relaxing over a nice and inexpensive glass of Italian red (you can't go wrong with the house wine), while my brother, mom and I often opted for an Aperol Spritz, a traditional cocktail made with prosecco, Aperol (a bitter Italian liqueur), a little splash of soda water and an orange slice.  Stay tuned for the recipe next week!  When I needed something a little more fortifying, I opted for one of my favorite cocktails, the Negroni.  This also became another favorite for my brother — he plans on stocking up his non-existent bar with Campari, Averna and Aperol now.  Good kid.

Now that I'm back in the states, I truly miss aperitivo time.  Yes, we go to our requisite bars after work and have a delicious craft cocktail, but it's something about the spirit of aperitivo that bars back here just can't capture.  It's that idea of collectively relaxing and conversing before going on to a long and leisurely late-night dinner with your friends and family.  It's the concept of just slowing down and decompressing after a hard day at work.  Here in LA, drinks have been turned into a function of our jobs.  We're expected to schedule our entire month with breakfasts, lunches and drinks so we can network and wheel and deal our little hearts out.  Maybe it's time we scheduled in more aperitivo time into our lives, and to just remind ourselves that there's nothing better than stopping the clock for an hour to enjoy a cocktail.