Italians take their pre dinner drinks seriously. Anytime from 5pm to 9pm, you will see locals and tourists alike in bars, sipping glasses of wine, Prosecco or Aperol Spritz and eating a spuntino (snack).
Having uno spritz in any historic or picturesque little town (or larger city) whilst watching the world and well dressed Italians walk past is one of the great joys of being in Italy. As much as Italians seem to drink (you will see them having a glass of wine in a bar at 11 am and my nonno used to start his day with a small glass of grappa before work), they seldom drink too much. It has to do with the culture – children drink wine from a very young age as part of their meal (rather than soft drink) – and it is always served with food.
Around aperitif time in a bar, you invariably get a snack free of charge. The old fashioned Italian bar is quite different from an Australian “bar”. They are more like cafes where you get coffee, light snacks as well as alcoholic drinks and they are open from early in the morning until late at night. They are in big cities and tiny towns. The spuntini can range from potato chips and nuts to crostini (tiny toasted/grilled open sandwiches), mini warm pizzas, canapes and panini farciti (which literally means stuffed sandwiches) depending on the bar.
I had some incredible spuntini during my time in Italy. Given that it was a relentlessly hot summer, my favorite ones were bite sized panini (which you could call canapes), in crustless white bread with a delicious array of fillings. From tuna with capers, to egg and red radicchio, I loved these soft panini, which were perfect with an Aperol Spritz. They were simple but tasty enough to not take away from the hero (the aperitif) and small enough that you could eat a couple with your drink before a light dinner. I have made them at home, to serve friends when they come over for a drink in the early evening.
You can be creative with your fillings for these tiny panini farciti ~ here are a few of my favourite for you to try but please, experiment ~ that is half the fun! I cut circles of fresh white sliced bread with a pastry cutter (or you could make bite sized squares). I make the ingredients fit the bread so that they look even and vary the colours so that they look interesting. You could use wholemeal bread for light coloured fillings. These were the ones I made for the photo below:
1. Roasted eggplant slices, buffalo mozzarella and fresh parsley
2. Gorgonzola (or another creamy blue cheese), San Daniele prosciutto and a tiny bit of fig jam (use fresh figs when in season)
3. Diced hard-boiled egg, tuna in olive oil, capers and home made mayonnaise – all mixed together
4. Home made mayonnaise, red radicchio and a slice of hard-boiled egg
5. Home made mayonnaise, slice of tomato and slivers of anchovies
And in case you are wondering what an Aperol Spritz is – as their website says, mix 2/5 Aperol with 3/5 Prosecco, add a splash of soda water, a slice of orange and some ice. Having an Aperol Spritz makes me feel like I am in Italy again (except that it is about 20 degrees colder in Melbourne at the moment!). Cin Cin!