by Kay Baumhefner
To Whet Your Appetite for Summer —
Here comes the sun! With the solstice stretching forward into midsummer’s day. It’s easy to work up a thirst when the heat’s on high. When you leave the windows open all night long and get up early to walk the dog. To water your garden before everything wilts. When you daydream about a hammock under the trees, complete with light reading and a cool breeze. Then once you’ve drained the iced tea or lemonade pitcher, and you need to start thinking about what you might grill for dinner, you’ll find that summer is the best time of year to treat yourself to a little aperitif. Especially when so many fruits are just dripping with juice to sweeten and expand the moment even more.
All year long, you can transform a simple glass of white wine into a French kir by dosing it with a little crème de cassis. Or make that a kir royale if you start with champagne instead. And even the most bargain basement bubbles get to turn into mimosas with the steady stream of orange juice stocked in cold cases all four of the seasons. You’re always expected to add ice to fortified aperitif wines like Campari, Dubonnet or my favorite Lillet. Perhaps a twist of citrus in the mix. But this season right now is the only time when fresh, ripe peaches, berries and cherries can elevate any of these drinks into something simply sublime.
You might already be a fan of bellinis, the romantic Venetian drink, which traditionally pairs pureed white peaches with sparkling Prosecco. Variations on that classic abound, especially in this age of trendy mixology, so why not make up some of your own? One of the quickest, easiest and most beautiful summer refreshers starts by just slicing the peeled peaches right into your glass (or pitcher) before adding the wine, sparkler or spirits. Then when all the liquid nectar’s gone, you’ll be left with the prize of already macerated fruit you could set aside to save for dessert. Or else knock back right then before you move on to the melon and prosciutto. The tomatoes, basil, burrata, toast and tapenade. See how easily this is all coming together?
Here’s how to mix the drinks.
Casual Recipe for Summery Aperitifs
You’ll Need …
- chilled white, rosé or sparkling wine -OR-
- chilled blanc, rosé or rouge Lillet
- peaches, nectarines, berries and/or cherries
and maybe …
- fresh citrus juice, slices and/or zest
- Grand Marnier
- black currant or raspberry syrup
- rose water
- lemon verbena sprigs or
- rose petals
To Make …
- Just add bite-size pieces of fresh fruit to wine or Lillet and serve -and/or-
- Add up to equal parts grapefruit, orange or tangerine juice.
- Then you can dose to taste with an optional splash of Grand Marnier, a drizzle of fruit syrup and/or drops of lemon juice, maybe rose water. Or choose not to.
- Add ice as needed to chill and dilute.
- Garnish with a citrus slice or zest strip, a sprig of lemon verbena, a flourish of rose petals or a fresh cherry on top. Whatever strikes your fancy.
and Play with …
This is about as loose as it gets. Choose and blend to create the sweet, tart, color and texture balance that will best tempt the eye, please your palate, quench your immediate thirst, and stimulate your appetite.
Wines: For a white wine, I prefer dry, non-oaky Chardonnays here, and low-alcohol rosés always make me feel like I’m on a picnic in Provence. When it comes to bubbles, I want to sip my husband’s elegant vintage En Tirage unadulterated. But there is a wide variety of lower-priced Spanish, Italian, French and American sparklers on the market now, and we’re delighted to see more available organic options. And if you’ve never tried Lillet aperitif wines, then this is your excuse. Particularly in the summer, I love their citrus and floral notes. We recently did a comparative tasting of their blanc, rosé and rouge side-by-side, and we were both delighted by the differences. All fun. Just make sure to either dilute Lillet with fresh citrus juice or wait until the ice melts, because the alcohol is higher than table wine. [They recommend grapefruit juice, which is perfect, but I also love blood orange juice with Lillet.]
Summer Fruit: Peaches. Just let me say peaches. For aperitifs I am partial to the French white “donut” varieties you see pictured above, but pick your own ripe favorites, whether white, pink or yellow. You need to peel peaches, but the skins can be left on nectarines. Raspberries are probably the most delicate and subtle choice of berries, but strawberries, blackberries and even blueberries would be beautiful. And fresh cherries are a naturally crisp and colorful improvement over the bottled maraschino varieties I have never been able to abide in cocktails.
Citrus: This big family of possibilities will freshen up any drink with its full range of tart acidity and natural sugar. Pick your own sweet spot.
Fruit Brandies & Syrups: Use to add color and/or to complement or intensify the selected fruit essence. I love the intensity in d’arbo brand fruit syrups; we always keep them around for also dressing up a plain glass of sparkling water into a non-alcoholic aperitif with a twist of lemon.
Ice: Clink! Ice will slowly melt to frost the glass in your hand and help re-hydrate you at the end of a hot day.
Garnishes: Flirt with eye appeal and top notes here.
Cheers! — Kay
Post originally published June 12, 2013 on Come Home to Cooking.