Cue Dean Martin singing Volare....
Da Big Kitty and Stella like bitter flavors. For Stella it is genetic - she was raised on Grandma Kate's freshly-foraged-in-our-front-yard dandelion salad, so bitter greens are just part and parcel of her inherited palate. Big Kitty, however, is mostly Swedish and then a melange of Scots-Irish, French Huguenot, Cherokee and heaven only knows what else. They tend toward a mostly bland flavor profile. Big Kitty is a throw-back, to be sure, so the fact that he passed Annalisa's test was nothing short of A Moment for Stella!
In a nutshell, Annalisa and her mother had embarked on a mission to fill in the missing blanks of Stella's heritage. It galled them that we were so damned Americanized. They fed me a variety of food and drink, then stood back to see if I took to them. One of those was an aperitif called Cynar. I loved it! Anna was positively over the moon. Then she tested Big Kitty. She poured him a little glass of the stuff, put it in front of him and then watched to see what happened. He liked it! She gave him a bottle of it for Christmas that year!
Cynar is one of a whole bunch of Italian aperitifs that are bitter, but utterly divine as long as your palate accepts those flavors. It is pronounced Chee-nar, and it is made from a lot of secret herbs plus the artichoke. These days it is a very popular bar item because we are in a nice bar fad that includes drinks like the Negroni.
We had used up our last bottle, and there was nary a bottle in the entire Old Dominion. Well, then I found a bottle up Floyd, so one sunny day, we had the local ABC contact the Floyd ABC, and up the mountain we went to procure the last extant bottle of that wonderful elixir. A week or so later, Stella, taking no chances, hit the ABC in Greensboro and nabbed a couple more bottles. It was nearly as exciting as scoring a case of Charmin during the pandemic!
Anyway, what the heck do we do with this collection of Amari? We make cocktails! And they are some mighty tasty ones, too! I am betting my late grandfather, Attilio, is parked in his favorite Summerland watering hole, kvelling over his granddaughter's good taste in liquor.
To get you started, the Negroni:
1 ounce gin (your choice, but not a highly botanical one; Tanqueray is fine)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (we like Cinzano, but you choose what you like)
In an old-fashioned glass, a few ice cubes, then build the drink directly into the glass. A swath of orange peel is nice - give it a twist over the liquor to expel the fragrant oils, then drop it in.
Don't like gin? That's okay, just hum a little Gigi and get in touch with your inner Maurice Chevalier for The Boulevardier:
1 ounce bourbon (we use Woodford's Reserve)
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (for this, I break out the expensive Carpano Antica)
Again, a few cubes and build this directly in the old-fashioned glass; garnish with a cherry or and orange twist, or if you can't make up your mind, both.
We have been working our way through a great book on the amaro called, no lie, Amaro, by Brad Thomas Parsons. Bitter Giuseppe, Little Italy, Jungle Bird, and tonight, Paper Plane.
Again, you have to have a well-developed appreciation for the bitter flavors because these are going to taste medicinal, otherwise.
Our collection of Amari is growing, and we are learning which ones we like best. But the fact is, we like all of them, both mixed and alone as either an aperitif or a digestif. One thing about Amari such as Cynar - they really do settle the stomach. In Italy, little kid has a tummy ache and there are two remedies: a spoonful of Cynar, or a glass of Chinotto, a bitter orange soda made by the Pellegrino company. You can't find it anywhere except where there is a pretty sizable Italian population. Stella gets hers in stores near the old Little Italy section of Harlem Avenue in Chicago, or Oak Park. By the case. (In the U.S., they give you 7-Up or ginger ale and saltines. Sometimes it works. Chinotto never fails.)
More to come on this subject, but wanted to give you a taste of what the Friday Night Cocktail might be.