The Sumptuous Italian Spritz

aperolThe very thought of my visit to Verona this September, brings me back to the very first time I had even heard of a ‘Spritz’, it was in fact at the beginning of my time in Verona. At the time I thought it was the go-to Veronese or Veneto drink, I soon learned that the Spritz is now the go-to drink all over Italy, well, Northern Italy in particular.Though there is much debate around the origins of the Spritz, the belief is that it originates from Austrian troops who invented this lovely concoction when they invaded Northern Italian regions during the Second World War. Apparently these troops weren’t as tough as they might have liked, and the Italian wine – wine from Veneto in particular with its higher alcohol content, was too strong for their tastes so they diluted it down with sparkling water.

Of course Italy being Italy, there are a few variations and adaptations according to region but in general when you ask for a Spritz, the question that will follow is if you want a Spritz with Aperol or Campari. The tradition of meeting friends after work for a Spritz aperitivo is still going strong in Veneto. It was during the 1920’s that the first poster ads were pasted outside bars on every street corner of Veneto and subsequently, all over Italy…Aperol was slowly but surely getting a name for itself. But the Spritz had yet to be born. During the 1960’s the first advertising campaigns, launching the Aperol Spritz appeared on TV screens all over Italy. Their legendary advertisement called Il Carosello featuring Italian actor Tino Buazelli displaying the classic Italian humour, soon caught on and people in bars all over Italy followed suit exclaiming “Ah, Aperol!” before sucking down their new sweet orange aperitivo of choice. Spritz Aperol quickly became popular due to its low alcohol content and easy drinking.

The first poster ad 1920

The first poster ad 1920

The Spritz has since become a recognised cocktail of the International Bartenders Association. These days most Italian bars will have multiple Spritz cocktails on the menu, giving you the opportunity to try it with other bitters such as Campari, Cynar or other variations, each one giving its own distinct flavour, colour, and taste. Though Campari could potentially give it a run for its money, the classic Aperol still remains a favourite in my books.

 

Piazza delle Erbe, Verona

Piazza delle Erbe, Verona

Though sipping a Spritz was a regular occurrence in Milan, and still is whenever I go to Novara or on holiday elsewhere in Italy for that matter, any mention of Spritz will always take me back to Verona. I will never forget one day sitting in Piazza delle Erbe, a cool Spritz in my hand, looking up at the gracefully aging cracked frescos lining the building walls and thinking (while knowing full well I would soon have to return home to Ireland to finish college), wouldn’t it be great if this was life all the time?My trip to fair Verona in September will most certainly involve an aperitivo in the evening sun as I people watch and catch up with old friends, surrounded by the frescos in Piazza delle Erbe, in the best way possible, over a Spritz.

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Inspiring Ischia

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Castello Aragonese

Despite people telling me I should blog again, my recent holiday to Ischia is what ignited the passion for me to write again. It began as soon as I arrived in Naples airport. We went through passport control and got our bags, albeit a slower process with a one year old in tow, and took a taxi to the port. While chatting to the driver in the car my husband mentioned that we had a bit of a wait before our ferry to Ischia. The driver in his laid-back tone said “Oh don’t worry, there’s a nice bar there. You can relax, sit down at the table and have a coffee con calma“. My husband turned to me and reminded me that that’s how coffee is taken down here, con calma – literally with calm, at the table, relaxed. There would be no standing at the bar and swigging back your coffee here  like Milan and many northern cities do. By this stage, after a 4am start in Dublin and a twitchy toddler on my lap, the smell of coffee was already filling my nostrils.

 

Ischia did not disappoint. Aside from its breathtaking Castello Aragonese (pictured above), Ischia had much more to offer us. Mostly Italians holiday here so although you have the odd touristy shop, it is very much unspoiled, and I speak about the main town on the Island. Even at the beach, we sat among Ischitani on the Spiaggia dei Pescatori. It was here that we ate out on our first evening. Spiaggia dei Pescatori, or Fishermens Beach, is between Ischia Ponte and Ischia Porto, probably closer to Ischia Ponte. A restaurant called O’ Sole Mio, overlooking the beach, was the perfect setting for our first evening. After the waiter took our order he brought our wine and much to my delight, some pettole.

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Zippuli

What I should say here is Zippuli, as they are called in Calabria. The first time I tried these delicious balls of dough I knew them as pettole because they were made by a Pugliese, and that is what they are called in Puglia. They are deep-fried dough balls usually salted or often have savoury ingredients added, and are most commonly known in their sweet form as Frittelle or Zeppole with icing sugar or pastry cream. Whatever way you happen to come across these, make sure you try them!

 

 

img_4024Ischia’s capital of the Island which is also called Ischia, is divided into two towns, Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte. Ischia Ponte was closer to where we were staying and it is where we explored first. It boasts the beautiful Castello Aragonese, Ischia’s symbol and most iconic monuments. One evening before dinner, after our stroll through the streets of Ischia Ponte, we sat sipping Spritz in the evening sun and watched local kids diving and fishing off the pier overlooking the castello. After a couple of hours running around after our mini Italian-Irish in the Piazzale Aragonese and traipsing up and down the paths with the pram, rocking it gently and willing him to sleep, we finally settled down by the pier in at a restaurant called Al Pontile. On the first page of their menu, the restaurant indicated that if its potential customers were in a hurry, they should order a salad or leave. Here everything was prepared made to order, plate by plate, with love and care by the mamma in the kitchen. We both looked up from the menu only to realise we picked the same primo and secondo. Our primo was fresh Scialatelli pasta, which is native to Amalfi, with a creamy mushroom sauce. Despite Ischia’s restaurants serving an abundance of fish given its island status, they also collect forest mushrooms from their lush green woods in the hills inland up from the sea.  For secondo we had salsicce e friarielli, the typical Neapolitan dish of sausage with a vegetable exclusive to campania, similar to rapini. Sadly we had no space for dessert but I bet it was as deliciously homemade as everything we had eaten there. We sipped on the remains of our bottle of Ischian wine as the waves lapped up on the pier, before making our way back on our well-needed uphill walk back to our hotel.

 

On our last night in Ischia, we returned to Ischia Porto where we had spent a couple of evenings of our holiday. It was here that we saved the best for last. After an earlier aperitivo in a cool bar overlooking the port called Starlet (get the GinGin Mule) and a walk until the  baby fell asleep, we made our way to La Terrazza di Mimi at the end of the Port. I really don’t like to follow Tripadvisor reviews and a few nights earlier my husband mentioned that this place was #1. I said we would try it tonight, if anything the view must have been good from the terrace.  We were greeted by the waitress who asked if we would mind sitting under the canopy of the terrace as the place was fully booked, we got the last table for two. The view even from there was good enough for me. Shortly after giving us the menus she brought warm pane Pugliese (crusty rustic bread from the south), drizzled with olive oil and herbs. I would have happy eaten this alone for dinner it was that good, but I ordered bruschetta on more of that heavenly pane Pugliese, and pasta with gamberoni (large prawns). The menu seemed simple enough, but I am quite sure that I certainly could not recreate what was delivered to our table by Mimi’s friendly son. There were Americans, Californians, in the restaurant and they were raving about how good the tomatoes are in Italy especially in southern Italy. And they are right. There is nothing better than a warm bruschetta with sweet tomatoes, spicy garlic and a pinch of salt drizzled in olive oil…I can almost taste it again as I write. Here at La Terrazza di Mimi I might even go as far as saying it quite possibly could be the best bruschetta I have had so far. My paccheri arrived in a fishy tomato clear sauce with two giant prawns on top. It was so good I didn’t have time for a photo. The paccheri carefully captured every drop of that savoury sauce on my plate so I didn’t miss out. I found that in Ischia while I always ate to much to have space for dessert, they weren’t big on it anyway. It was usually a choice of ice cream or tiramisu’ or something else. At La Terrazza di Mimi, they had lemon tiramisu’ or fruit. My husband reluctantly ordered a lemon tiramisu’ followed by an order of limoncello for me and a rucolino for him. Rucolino is a typical Ischian digesive made from rocket salad leaves.  The lemon tiramisu’ was divine. Luscious lemon flavoured savoiardi with a creamy lemony mascarpone. The perfect ending to our Ischian adventure.

 

We walked back through Corso Vittoria Colonna which winds from Ischia Porto right up to Ischia ponte, a beautiful walk on narrow cobbled streets past bars, shops, restaurants and a park, observing Italians chatting loudly in the streets, local teenagers on their way out for the night, and tourists like ourselves – taking it all in, the ever inspiring Ischia.