Drinks and appetizers to take the edge off the summer heat

05/09/2013 6:20 PM

05/09/2013 7:03 PM

In ancient times, our parents would dissolve a sugar cube with bitters, and add whiskey, ice and a twist of orange zest. That was an Old Fashioned. When in Rome, they did as the Romans did, sipping aperitifs concocted from brightly colored liqueurs and soda.

Today, young moderns are embracing light, spritzy, aperitif-based drinks as pre-dinner pick-me-ups – libations to perk up the palate before the food and wine come around. On a recent scorching afternoon at Stg Trattoria in Buckhead, I held a glass of orange fizzy water in my hand, marveled at the pretty color, took a sip and fell in love.

Thus my new obsession with mixologist David Durnell’s Aperol Orange Soda, so named for the bright-red, bittersweet, Campari-like Italian liqueur that is its main ingredient. Invented by Durnell, bartender at Stg’s sister restaurant, Bocado, the Aperol Orange harks back to the American Old Fashioned. The slight edge of Aperol and orange bitters is tempered by an equal amount of simple syrup and lemon juice – plus a big glug of soda water, preferably Italian. A strip of orange zest finishes it off.

The sparkling water has a natural cooling effect. Hold the drink close to your face and it will mist you. For me, it is summer in a glass.

So is lemonade, iced tea, a mixture of the two, or anything concocted with copious amounts of ice, lemon, lime, sugar and mint. Lately I have discovered that lemonade has an affinity with herbes of Provence, the mixture of dried Mediterranean herbs that usually includes rosemary and lavender. By infusing simple syrup with the perfume of herbs and a hint of vanilla bean, you introduce the classic American sipper to the sunny flavors of France. (Bon jour!) Stir up a pitcher. The kids can drink lemonade, and the adults can spike the drink. Bourbon is my preferred method for hardening lemonade. If you are feeling especially glib, pop in a maraschino cherry. You also could add a shot of vodka or gin or bubble up the lemonade with a splash of soda, prosecco or champagne.

Of course, you cannot serve cocktails or lemonade, hard or soft, without something to nibble. You can open a can of nuts or a bag of chips. But when you want a little something extra special and homemade, try cheese straws.

In the South, cheddar is the classic ingredient. At Atlanta’s Miller Union restaurant, executive chef Steven Satterfield substitutes blue dairy for orange. For his blue cheese wafers, pecans add a little crunch, and a sprinkling of sea salt will make you want another drink.

If Aperol and herbes de Provence put you in a Mediterranean mood, try some sweet summer figs wrapped in salty Italian pancetta. Marinate the figs with a little brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, lemon and rosemary. Pierce them with a skewer, and grill until the figs are oozing and the pancetta is crisp.

Then pour yourself a drink.

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