Il Bel Paese in the summertime: there's no place quite like it on earth. When the temperatures rise in Italy, we tend to spend entire leisurely days in the sun, and close to water. Around Rome, the quickest escape is to the beaches of Ostia and Torvaianica, only about 15 miles from the heart of the city.
One of my favorite memories of life in Italy is the feeling I'd have, returning from a day at the beach: suntanned skin, salt in my hair, I'd clean off under a quick shower and then dress and head out to dinner with friends. This meal needed to be light and fresh, so as not to weigh me down in the intense Italian heat and humidity. Inevitably, this meant seafood. And nothing is more refreshing after a meal of fish tartare and carpaccio, pasta alle vongole or branzino baked in a salt crust, than a sgroppino served in a frosted champagne flute.
For the record, I'm not big on Italian desserts. There are only a handful in the repertoire anyway. And I've always believed in the idea of cocktail-as-dessert: it makes sense, aids in the digestion process, and keeps the drinks flowing even after the meal is technically over. The sgroppino is this wonderful combination of refreshing dessert with liquor that acts as a digestivo: perfect! Of course, like any Italian invention there is the original (said to hail from the area around Venice, also where tiramisu' originates -- quite the elegant epicures, those Venetians!)...and then there are the other versions. A true sgroppino should not be a drink with a ball of sorbetto plopped into it. Nor should it be a 'slushie' with a champagne floater. It is the perfect equilibrium of lemon sorbetto (that means it's made without dairy) + vodka + prosecco. Punto.
Now, there are those who add a bit of limoncello to the recipe, and actually it's an addition that I don't protest, since I am of the school of "everything is better with limoncello." It's kind of a southern Italian tweak to the northern original, and I can't argue with that. The lemons from the Amalfi coast are big and beautiful and lend their particular variety of concentrated citrus flavor to the liquor, and therefore any drink containing it. But on the whole, the basic recipe, on which it's hard to improve, is comprised of just three ingredients. And like Italian cuisine, with Italian drinks, the high quality of the handful of ingredients is of the utmost importance.
1. Sorbetto al limone: You should use either homemade sorbet or a brand you trust to use all-natural ingredients, without chemicals or loads of stabilizers. Ciao Bella and Il Laboratorio del Gelato are great Italian-style options available stateside. You'll want to make sure this is thawed a little bit so it can be mixed with the other ingredients. Let it sit out at room temperature for 15 minutes before using it.
2.) Vodka: Of course this should be high-quality too, even though it's going to be mixed with other ingredients. Think well-produced, clean vodkas like Belvedere, Ketel One, or a locally-produced option. Although I'm a fan of Grey Goose, I left it off of the list because it's French...out of respect for the Italians, who would prefer not to have the French mixed up in their Italian cocktails, grazie.
3.) Prosecco: This is not sparkling wine, not spumante, even -- it's prosecco. That's the name of the grape and the name of the drink made from that grape, and that's what should be used in this cocktail/digestivo. It's drier, crisper than other sparkling white wines and since it's made in the Veneto, it goes into this Veneto-created mix. I adore most prosecchi, but Nino Franco happens to put out an excellent product. He's also a cool guy -- I visited his estate and tasted his product over the course of 30-plus years, and it's incredibly well-made. Bottoms up.
Once you have all of these ingredients at the right temperatures (sorbetto softened, vodka and prosecco well-chilled), you mix them together, either with a whisk in a chilled bowl, or quickly in a blender. E basta. It should be the consistency of a slushie or a loose granita: liquid enough to drink from the glass, but thick enough to be able to use a spoon as well. Serve in frosted champagne flutes or tall shot glasses -- even an icy martini glass would work, though it's not classic. The important thing is that the consistency is right, you can taste the alcohol...and that it's consumed subito, right away.
Buon estate a tutti! Happy summer, everyone!