It’s no secret to anyone living in Italy that it is hot. I’m talking heat index of over 115 degrees Fahrenheit on a daily basis for almost three weeks hot. Step out of the shower, dry off, and already wet from sweat hot. Spend five minutes outside hanging laundry in the shade and you need to take a shower hot.
It’s no secret to anyone living in Italy (or to anyone who reads the New York Times) that the current state of Rome, the city I now call home, is not only getting trashed in the media, but literally trashed in the streets. Current sanitation strikes due to workers’ unwillingness to clock in and out of work have left the city covered in trash. During the heatwave. With the heat. And the smell.
I find these two very good reasons to enjoy nice, refreshing summer cocktails. I know, right? I sure am a glass half-full (and then filled again), walk on the sunny side of the street kinda gal.
Inspired by a recent article in Bon Appétit about summer cocktails, as well as my Italian’s affinity for surprising me with a cold drink while I furiously type away on the computer, I thought I’d put together a list of my favorites that are, and this is the best part, easy to make at home! Most are based on a few simple ingredients that you can find readily available in both Italy and the United States. For those of you balking at the price of some of the Italian ingredients in the U.S., I will say this: once you purchase them, unless you plan on having a party where these particular summer cocktails are the only thing on the menu, they should last you the entire summer.
Let’s get mixing!
My first foray into Italian cocktails, the Aperol spritz quickly became a weekly staple, whether at aperitivo with friends or lounging outside on the balcony with a good book and some soul music playing smoothly in the background. This cocktail is easy to drink. Refreshing, light, and subtly flavorful, you can go through two of them without even breaking a sweat. While Aperol, like it’s fraternal twin sister Campari, is considered a bitter, don’t let that dissuade you from giving it a try. An infusion of fruits and herbs in a bitter liquor, Aperol has a subtle mandarin/orange flavor, and the sweetness of the prosecco balances out any bitterness you may find drinking it solo on the rocks.
3 parts Prosecco DOC
2 parts Aperol
1 part Tonic Water
Use a tumbler or wide bulb wine glass and fill halfway with ice. Add 3 parts Prosecco first, followed by 2 parts Aperol, and finally 1 part Tonic Water. Garnish with orange slice or peel, depending on your preference. You may even want to rub the peel around the rim of the glass before placing it for that nice orange aroma every time you bring the glass to your lips. No need to stir this one folks, it does all of the work for you.
Note that it’s easy to swap out the tonic water (which has a slightly bitter taste compared to other sparkling waters) for the sparkling water of your choice: club, seltzer, Pellegrino, etc. I use tonic water with the Aperol spritz because the slightly bitter flavor pairs very well with the Aperol. It really all depends on your preference. And, hey, you can always try it a few different ways before you make up your mind! Like we need an excuse to experiment and taste test cocktails!
HUGO/ST. GERMAIN SPRITZ
The original Hugo spritz, according to the Consorzio di Tutela della Denominazione di Origine Controllata Prosecco (Consortium for the Protection of the Name of the Controlled Origin of Prosecco), is made with Elderflower syrup and garnished with mint, while the St. Germain spritz includes a dash of bitters and is garnished with lime. Listen, there’s a lot to think about here. Both the syrup and the St. Germain can be too sweet for some, which is why the dash of bitters sounds like an enlightening revelation (truth be told, this is the first I’ve heard about this exact recipe).
4 oz. Prosecco DOC
3/4 oz. Elderflower Syrup
Splash of Club Soda
Sprig of Mint
Use a wide bulb wine glass and fill it halfway with ice. Add the Prosecco first, followed by the Elderflower syrup, and finally the club soda. Because the syrup can be a bit gelatinous, give this drink a gentle stir with a bar spoon after adding the mint. Serve with a slice of lime.
4 oz. Prosecco DOC
3/4 oz. St. Germain
Splash of Club Soda
2-3 drops of Bitters (optional)
Use a wide bulb wine glass and fill it halfway with ice. Add the Prosecco first, followed by the St. Germain, and finally the club soda. If you choose to, add the bitters and then mix gently with a bar spoon.
Feel free to cut down the syrup/St. Germain to 1/2 oz. if 3/4 oz. is too sweet for you. Or kick it up a notch to 1 oz. if you can’t get enough! Another example of when taste testing will get you exactly where you want to be! Admittedly, I’m a purist here. I’m all about the unabashed and untainted flavor of the Elderflower. So much so that the St. Germain spritz (minus bitters) was one of the two signature cocktails at my summer wedding’s open bar. And it went fast!
We all know and love Margaritas, and they are the perfect summer drink. A whiff of sour from the lime juice, a kick of flavor from the tequila, and the sweetness from the triple sec all meld together for the perfect thirst-quenching, lip-puckering sip. Don’t forget the salt-rimmed glass!
In the way of transparency, I will tell you that in most cases, I loathe tequila. Straight, on the rocks, in other cocktails, it’s just not for me (bad college experience anyone?!). But man, do I love a good margarita. And what is my favorite, you may ask? The Margarita Texana, of course. While almost any flavor can be made into a frozen or on-the-rocks margarita, in any country of the world, this remains my favorite. A drink-list staple in most U.S. Mexican restaurants, one small ingredient is added to make it sublime: Grand Marnier.
It may not be called the Margarita Texana everywhere, some places it’s known as a top-shelf margarita, others it’s nonexistent, but it’s glorious all the same.
Finely grated lime zest
Coarse kosher salt
Lime slice or wedge
2oz. top-shelf Tequila
1oz. Grand Marnier (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
1 1/2 oz. Lime juice, or more, to taste
1 1/2 cups ice cubes
In a small shallow bowl or rimmed saucer combine the lime zest and salt and mix well. Run the lime slice around the rim of a stemmed, wide-mouthed glass to moisten it, then turn the glass upside down and press the rim in the salt mixture. Set glass aside. In a cocktail shaker combine all remaining ingredients and shake well to chill. Strain into the prepared glass and serve immediately.
We can all thank Emeril Lagasse, the king of Creole, for this particular margarita recipe. I much prefer my margaritas on the rocks, but if it’s hot enough, and I’m in the right mood, you may see me sticking my face in a mound of frozen margaritas. What does a mound of frozen margaritas look like, you ask? This.
Best friend cameo! Hi, Stephanie!
The Negroni, a classic Italian cocktail, is a real man’s man drink. Equal parts gin, vermouth, and Campari, it’s strong, intense in flavor, and oh so good. For some, it may be too alcohol heavy to drink during the summer. I will drink Negroni’s all day every day, but once in a while during the brutal summer heat, the lighter version just hits the spot. Fresh and stimulating for an outdoor aperitivo or happy hour, the Negroni Sbagliato (Italian for mistaken) is less likely to affect your public-appropriate sobriety. While the woodsiness of the gin from the original Negroni isn’t present here, the effervescence of the pinot chardonnay carries the scents of the Campari and vermouth straight to your nose, leaving your mouth-watering for just one more sip.
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Vermouth
1 oz. Pinot Chardonnay
In a low tumbler or low-ball glass, add ice. Add 1 oz. each of both the Campari and vermouth, followed by the pinot chardonnay. Stir gently.
If you’re looking for a slightly bigger drink, with slightly more muted flavors, just add a little bit more of the bubbly. Remember, even though this drink was invented by mistake (a bartender in Milan accidentally reached for the bubbly instead of the gin when asked to prepare a classic Negroni), it certainly doesn’t taste like one! Plus, we could all use a little but of excitement in our lives, right?