Elizabeth Helman Minchilli
We're cocktail people. Which isn't always an easy thing to be in a wine-loving, Mediterranean country like Italy. Most of the places where we meet friends for drinks offer Prosecco, wine, and ... wine. While the craft beer movement is going strong here, cocktails still lag far behind. If you ask the waiter, there is always the same lineup of Italian classics: Negroni, Americano, Campari and soda. But ask for anything as exotic as a gin and tonic or—God forbid—a Martini, and you are heading into unknown territory.
Which means we entertain a lot at home. In fact, neighbors have been known to ring our doorbell at around seven, with an innocent "Just wanted to say hi."
Well, I'm always happy to whip up a cocktail, and never more so than at holiday time. And even though I do live in non-cocktail country, I like to use local ingredients, and there are plenty. So, my gift to you: some Italy-inspired cocktails for your holiday entertaining and enjoyment.
Sometimes I want a Manhattan, but lately I've been craving something a tiny bit sweeter. Here is my version of an Old-Fashioned, making use of Martini & Rossi's new Rosato vermouth (which is a gorgeous shade of pink) and clementines, which always add sunshine.
• 2 1/2 ounce bourbon
• 1/2 ounce Martini Rosato
• 1/2 ounce sugar syrup
• 1/4 clementine
• orange bitters
Cut the clementine quarter in half.
Place one piece in a rocks glass, along with the sugar syrup and bitters. Muddle well, so that you release both the juice and the essential oils from the skin of the fruit (the fresher the better, and of course organic).
Pour in bourbon and vermouth. Stir.
Fill glass with ice and garnish with the remaining piece of clementine, squeezing slightly.
Pallina di Natale
I love the mixture of egg whites with Campari, which takes the edge off the bitter, making it luscious and smooth. Serve in a round wine glass for the Pallina di Natale (Christmas ornament) effect.
• 2 ounces Campari
• 1 ounce gin
• 1/2 ounce Lillet
• 1 egg white
Pour Campari, gin, Lillet, and egg white into a cocktail shaker. Shake hard for about 30 seconds. Open shaker and add ice. Give it a few more shakes to chill, and strain into stemmed, round-bellied wine glass.
I'm heading to my friend Rachel's house for New Year's and naturally my contribution is the cocktail course. Rather than stand there mixing single drinks, I've decided to go for punch, which is not only pretty and festive, but much easier on the little black dress.
• 2 cups chilled Campari
• 1 cup chilled grappa
• 4 cups chilled red current juice
• 1 bottle chilled Prosecco
• 1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
• 1 lemon, thinly sliced
• 1 orange, thinly sliced
Combine pomegranate molasses in a small bowl, and mix with grappa until completely dissolved. Add this, and the rest of ingredients, to a large punch bowl. Stir gently. Add one large block of ice to chill. If you'd like, you can freeze some red currents and lemon slices into the ice block, for a pretty look. And while I'm able to get fantastic red current juice at the local farmers' market, I think this punch would work with pomegranate or even raspberry juice (as long as they aren't too sweet).