Glam up your summer weekends with a retro throw-back to the ’70s; refreshing watermelon Margaritas.
Summer livin’s easy. It has to be when it’s +34 degrees at sundown and the humidity is drippingly unbearable. Friday nights are made for l’heure de l’apéro as a wind-down to welcome in the weekend. Ocean breeze in your hair or not, you can still feel you’re light years away from home sweet home. Take any old back garden on a reasonably fine summer evening, mix up one of these and your staycation could be the Mediterranean or Mexico.
But last night, the first Friday in August, wasn’t any old weekend apéro night. Yesterday signaled the start of the annual shutdown; Malta and Italy’s and probably most of continental Europe’s mother of all holidays. In Malta, we refer to it by the major saint’s day feast that falls in mid August – Santa Marija (St Mary) on 15th. Italians tend to call it Ferragosto, a corruption of feriea Augusti, the Latin for the harvest home holiday set up by Emperor Augustus in 18 BC. Today, it comes not a moment too soon as despite heat waves earlier in the summer, August ushers in, true to form, the most limpid, airless, sweaty days of summer.
The Margarita has a dodgy heritage that some of us would probably rather leave in the annals of our misspent youth. I remember the notorious ‘happy hour’ at a cocktail bar in Bath in the mid ’80s that did stunningly beautiful if lethal mixes at half price. Students would make their way down town for the bewitching hour of 6-7pm and barely make it anywhere else after a couple of discount drinks. The Happy Hour bit the dust around a decade ago in the UK for just this reason. The nearest the UK gets to it now is the commuter’s swift half at a workplace local before catching the train home to the suburbs. The concept of the ‘l’heure de l’apéro’ continental style is hard to come by in the UK, even with Gastropubs having sprouted and a cafe’ scene writ large on any UK high street.
And that’s because the aperitif, apéro or aperitivo is not just about an early evening nip of something to wipe out a bad day or prime one for a commute home. It isn’t even indulgent and doesn’t have to be alcoholic. The hour, which can begin as early as 6pm but more likely 7pm and drawing to a close around 8.30, is a quiet time to reflect, relax, recount a few bits and bobs of the day to friends and family, and to ease oneself gently into an evening meal – both cook and guests share the pleasures of the hour, unrushed. It can be in the back garden or lingered over at a small round cafe’ table. Waiters rarely mind in Italy, I find, if you hog a table for near on an hour and half with just a few Crodinos (a non-alcoholic, bitter aperitif) and a couple of bowls of nibbles like olives or peanuts.
Margaritas moment of the day
The appeal of l’heure de l’apéro is hard to define, but if you’ve a continental lifestyle, it’s bound to be a normal part of your week at some point. Even in January when I was in Catania, Sicily, on a Sunday evening with an amazing sunset, cafe’ tables were full of families, couples and friends savouring un’aperitivo in the main square, watching others on their passaggiata. A local and very down-to-earth bar in my Maltese village offers an unending supply of (free) assaggi to accompany any early evening drink. The nibbles range from mini pizze to nuts, olives, cheese bites and more.
The message I take from this southern European-Mediterranean habitual hour of the aperitif is that it’s important to take a small chunk of the day to ‘do nothing’ but share a simple table for some social chit chat. It’s all too easy to rush most of the week, whether it’s holiday time or not, working, shopping, takings kids to after school and evening activities, and then dashing to get an evening meal on the table. Let the aperitif hour weedle its way into your week for all the right reasons, which have nothing to do with ‘I need a drink!’ or ‘getting tanked up’.
A day back, a food blogger I have followed for two years online and who inspired me to take up this blog, sent a short note telling her followers, fans and friends to hug someone dear and near. Her brother died in a tragic accident that very day, and she was urging us to make time, now, for living and sharing. Even a simple hour with someone once a week, taking time to sit and listen, not with half an ear as we rush in our routines, is part of that self-same sentiment. For me, the aperitif hour is one of life’s simple pleasures and meant to be enjoyed with nearest and dearest. Think about making time for it tonight, and on weekends to come, for reasons that have little to do with alcohol.
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
- Serves 2 to 3 stem glassesprint button transparent
- 400g watermelon
- 175ml Tequila
- 100ml Prosecco or similar
- 75ml lime juice (around 3 limes)
- 2 whole lime to slice
- 60ml sugar (or less as desired)
- fine salt to rim glasses
- CRUDITÉS CHEESE ASSAGGI
- 3 small soft goat cheeses, or cream cheese like Philadelphia
- bunch of radishes
- 3 peperonici (long, fat chilis or slim peppers)
- fresh ground black pepper & sea salt
- cocktail sticks or short bamboo skewers
- Freeze watermelon slices til partly frozen but not solid (1.5 hours is fine). Chill cocktail stem glasses for 20 minutes before serving.
- Remove melon from freezer and cut into smallish chunks. Place in a food processor or blender and whiz til pulverised. Strain the watermelon through a sieve, pressing through every last drop of juice.
- Place the watermelon juice along with all the other ingredients, except Prosecco, salt and lime slices, in a shaker or large jug and mix thoroughly.
- Decant to a large jug and stir in the Prosecco.
- Take the cocktail stems from the freezer and dip their rims onto a plate of salt to coat lightly.
- Place two or three ice cubes in each glass and pour in the Margarita carefully. Serve with extra lime slices.