The Italian language has a beautiful ring with lyrical words that dance with alliteration. When “Eat Pray Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert decided to study Italian during the course of her divorce, she described “every word as a singing sparrow, a magic trick, a truffle.” According to Gilbert, “Speaking these words made me feel sexy and happy.”
So it’s no surprise that many of Italy’s contributions to the seductive realm of cocktails boast monikers that roll off the tongue like romantic prose … Prosecco, Bellini, Campari, and Negroni.
The Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC) recently celebrated Italy’s contribution to the cocktail world with an event at the Occidental Grill.
Phil Greene,MOTAC founding member, kicked off the event by discussing the history behind the Bellini, a refreshing mix of peach and sparkling wine made famous at Harry’s bar in Venice and the Negroni, which is named after Count Camillo Negroni. World-renowned PS-7 bar chef Gina Chersevani, an Italian-American, continued the theme by sharing her family recipe for Limoncello and the Trieste Spritz. Attendees also learned about various brands of Italian liqueurs including Campari, Aperol, Fernet Branca and Luxardo.
Amaro, meaning “bitter” in Italian, is an herbal liqueur, usually enjoyed after dinner. Amaro is produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark and citrus peels in alcohol, mixing them with sugar syrup, and allowing it to age in casks or bottles.
Averna is an Amaro produced on the island of Sicily, which is named after its inventor, Salvatore Averna, who developed his recipe in 1868. According to Gina, whose mom is from Sicily, this traditional liqueur is often served alone or with coffee.
Gina invented her Averna cocktail to pair with a chocolate basil cake at PS-7. She was trying to think of something to tie the two ingredients (chocolate and basil) together when it dawned on her to use Averna. “It has a certain herbaceous quality to it,” she says, “and rich overtones of nuts”
While Averna Amaro has been made in Italy for over 140 years, Gina said it disappeared from the US temporarily. Only in the last two or three years did it begin importing back into the US.
Gina told a delightful story about a family gathering at her aunt’s home, where the lady of the house presented Gina’s father with a bottle of Averna that they drank with coffee.
Gina told her father that the Avema makes a great chocolate milkshake, to which he replied, ”You know you mom doesn’t allow me to have milkshakes.”
But later that evening, alone at Gina’s house, her father coyly asked her to make him one of her Averno ice cream drinks. Her father loved the combination, and to this day he still enjoys his forbidden milkshake tipple in private.
Gina describes the recipe as “foolproof” and recommends using a good quality chocolate ice cream. This luscious cocktail would work well as either a drink or as a stand-alone dessert.
Latte di Chocolate di Basil
1.5 oz Averna Amaro
4 oz. whole milk
1 scoop chocolate ice cream
3 fresh basil leaves
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Serve in a glass and garnish with a fresh basil leaf.
Averna Amaro may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown. For more information on cocktail seminars visit MuseumOfTheAmericanCocktail.org.