There are few food rituals I love more than aperitivo. Cocktail hour. It’s the in-between time. The day is ending, the night is beginning. It’s a time for talk. For laughter. For food. Whether it’s a stiff G&T and peanuts in an English garden on a sunny evening, or a vibrantly-coloured Aperol Spritz and a few olives on a cobbled street in Bologna as the lights twinkle on, you can’t really go wrong.
J and I have reproduced this ritual many a time. It’s a treasured holiday tradition, and an elegant everyday treat. We’ve enjoyed it with our families. In far-flung places. Sitting in a sunny patch on our living room floor, like cats stretching out in a puddle of sunshine. It’s not fancy – that’s kind of the point. You don’t need much to throw together a pleasing nibble feast. You need a good drink, something you love. Some radishes. A small bowl of nuts. Some rosy, languorous lengths of proscuitto. A few olives. And, in my opinion, these compelling little bites.
They’re ridiculously easy to throw together – you just blitz all the ingredients in the food processor, chill the resulting dough, and then shape and bake the bites for 8-12 minutes. I like to make a batch this size, baking some the first night, and mini batches over the next few. They keep fine in an air-tight jar, but you can’t beat the combination of a ice-cold glass of something and a few freshly-baked bites, warm from the oven. Kept chilled in the fridge the dough will be fine for a few days, so your aperitivo snack is ready to go. It couldn’t be easier.
These bites go wonderfully with a glass of rosé. Sherry, too. And they’re great with a Negroni (anchovies and Campari are a match made in heaven). But those are just a few of the drinks we’ve tried them with. I imagine they’d be equally as good with a cold beer. I mean, they’re pretty good on their own, if you just have a hankering.
A word on the dough. You’ll need to rest it at least 30 mins in the fridge when you first make it, but it responds really well to a bit longer than that if you have a patience (an hour or two would be great). While you can roll it out with a rolling pin, the process is sticky and quite frankly more effort than it’s worth. I prefer to just pull off little nubs of dough, roll them like meatballs, and press them down with the pad of my thumb. That way you get little bite-sized morsels. I like them small (they get nice and crispy), but size will come down to personal preference. Just bear in mind that the bigger they are, the longer they’ll need to bake.
The number you’ll get from this batch will depend on the size of the bites. Let me put it this way, if you’re enjoying a few nights of aperitivo with a friend or a loved one (e.g. one other person), this batch will keep you going for at least 3 or 4 nights of fun. You can make different sizes and shapes every night if you so wish, until you find the shape you like best. That’s what aperitivo is all about. Your favourite people. Your favourite drink. And some delicious nibbles – made just the way you like them.
Almond, manchego, and green olive bites
1/2 cup whole almonds (or a mix 75-25 almonds and pecans also works nicely)
1/2 cup green olives
1 cup plain flour
115g unsalted butter
50g tin of anchovy fillets (in oil, drained)
65g manchego (this can be very rough – just a good-sized chunk)
1/2 tsp pepper and a scant pinch of salt
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
Toast the almonds in a dry pan for a few minutes, shaking them so they don’t catch. Set aside to cool slightly (you don’t want to add them to the rest of the ingredients while they’re hot, otherwise they’re likely to melt the butter and mess with the mixture).
Put all the ingredients into a food processor. Blitz until a dough forms.
Remove dough from the food processor, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Pull off little nubs from the big ball of dough. Roll them between your hands to form small balls, then press down with the pad of your thumb to form a bite-sized disc. Almost like an orecchiette (“small ear” shaped pasta).
Lay each bite on the prepared sheet, then bake for 8-12 minutes.
Once slightly cooled, enjoy with your favourite drink.