The Aperature – a cocktail made from Aperol, gin, and blood oranges – helps usher in spring while saying goodbye to citrus season.
In my early twenties, I lived in Florence for a year on a street called Via degli Artisti with a wonderful painter named Fiorella, a sandy blonde with a scratchy voice and a deep affection for card games, rum, and cigars. We were a 10-minute ride on our rusty bicycles from the heart of city, and a brisk five-minute walk from the main market near Santa Maria Novella. The first warm sunny days of spring always remind me of Fiorella and how she would wake up each morning, fling open the kitchen doors, and step onto our tiny terrazza to water the scented geraniums on the railing. She’d come back into the kitchen and fresh squeeze two glasses of blood orange juice by hand, one for each of us.
The fruits Fiorella juiced were called Moro oranges. Grown in Sicily, they tasted more like fresh raspberries than any kind of orange I had ever tasted, with flesh ranging from deep orange to dark burgundy. I lived for these oranges and those mornings when Fiorella made me sit down with her for breakfast.
As I wait here at home for the flora of the season to pop, I scan my imagination for ways to conjure spring. I keep a keen eye on the oily green rhubarb leaves peeking out of the soil in my raised bed. I visit the micro clusters of lemon balm daily – but it’s still too soon to pick it. And the asparagus nowhere in sight. And so I find solace in fresh oranges at this time of year – so sweet and so abundant – though I know that the harvest must be on its last legs. Clementines and minneolas will slowly but surely trickle out of season, soon to be replaced with the awe of artichokes, fiddleheads, and fresh nettles.
One of my favorite epiphanies from my time in Florence came in the form of a cocktail. I call it the Aperture, as it’s proverbial widening of the lens, if you will. It’s a marriage of two of my favorite classic drinks, the Aperol spritz (a quaffable mix of the bitter aperitif, prosecco, and soda water) and the Negroni (equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth). Every café in Florence serves their own version of a Negroni during aperitivo (cocktail hour), complemented by a bowl of olives or nuts, or sometimes a bigger spread of cured meats, cheese, and crostini topped with anything from fresh seafood to tiny slices of hotdog. (During aperitivo, anything is possible.)
The Aperture’s soft, fruity notes come from the blood orange juice, which adds a lush texture and depth to the spritz, mellowing any sharp edges from the gin and fortifying the citrusy notes of the Aperol….
Every November, during the calm before the storm of the holidays, I start scheming the cocktail recipes that will carry me through the season from party to party and cheers to cheers. I make a list of all of the beautiful treasures of the fall harvest for inspiration – the sweet-savory juice of fresh beets and carrots that shine in a sour; the pineapple sage that I’ve packed into raw honey to make syrup; and the seemingly bottomless basket of apples that I will savor into the new year with countless pies, spiced old-fashioneds and compotes.
I’m a huge fan of sparkling cocktails for the holidays. They’re light and effervescent and evoke a certain twinkle in the eye and glow of the cheeks. In addition to bubbles, spritzes can include a base spirit, a cordial, fresh juice, or any combination of the three.
My favorite sparkling cocktail right now is The Orchard Spritz. The base is Thomas Tew dark rum (made by Newport Distilling Co.), with its amber notes of vanilla, caramel, oak, and just enough pepper to drive a bit of heat into the bones. St.George spiced pear liqueur adds some sweetness along with hints of cinnamon and clove. I also include fresh lemon juice, which animates the cordial with a lively zest. Rhody Coyote cider adds….