This European Pre-Dinner Ritual Helps Me Wind Down After Work
Credit goes to my French boyfriend.
Published Oct 12, 2019 6:00 AM
Aperitifs—low-alcohol beverages served with small snack plates—are something I’ve always associated with fancy occasions. Hosting a housewarming party? Drinking with friends before a night on the town? Trying to keep guests entertained while you prepare dinner? These are the only moments that seemed like acceptable times to haul out a tray of hors d’oeuvres and a set of cordial glasses.
But that all changed when I moved in with my French boyfriend, who has been enjoying nightly aperitifs for his entire life and introduced the ritual to mine. It’s a tradition in his family (and many other families throughout France) to serve what they affectionately call an apero before dinner: something simple like a bag of chips, a block of cheese, or cherry tomatoes to keep you from getting too hungry while the meal is prepared.
But it’s so much more than just that. In the beginning, I didn’t fully understand why my boyfriend insisted on eating a snack together after work, but I began to love it as he showed me what it can be. When we visited his family, I quickly realized that it isn’t really about the food at all. Instead, it’s a chance for everyone to come together at the end of the day, relax and laugh, and maybe have a glass of a nice wine or a fresh beer before diving into the stress of cooking dinner. It gives you that last little boost of energy that you need, both emotionally and physically, to get through the final stretch.
Even though aperitifs aren’t really about the food, that doesn’t mean that the food you serve shouldn’t be great. It should, however, always be easy to make. Use the opportunity to showcase ingredients that are delicious as they are and don’t need much doctoring. I’m talking about creamy cheeses topped with olive oil and flaky salt, and seasonal veggies chopped up and served with a side of sourdough bread from your local bakery. Use some of these simple aperitif ideas to make every night feel like a special occasion.
Serve a Cheese, Cured Meat, or Pickled Vegetable to Keep It Easy
Most nights, my boyfriend and I enjoy something that doesn’t need much more than a slice of cheese or a drizzle of olive oil. We always try to choose the best ingredients possible, whether that’s something delicious we picked up on our travels—like this peppery Portuguese olive oil, lomo embuchado (fatty cured pork from Spain), tiny French pickles called cornichons, or bread from our favorite bakery near our home in Berlin. The better the ingredients are on their own, the less work you have to do to make them taste great and the faster you’re able to get your aperitif on the table.
Depending on how many people there are, you also don’t have to serve a ton. If it’s just you and one other, the most you need is two items—for example, a ball of burrata served alongside sliced bread, or salami and a bowl of olives. Aim to have one dish per person and you’ll always have enough for everyone.
Whip Up Something With Seasonal Produce If You Have 10 Minutes to Spare
Aperitifs afford you the perfect opportunity to showcase the ever-changing selection at the farmers’ market, because it doesn’t take a lot to make peak seasonal produce taste great. During the summer and early fall, take advantage of the surplus of tomatoes by throwing together a quick bruschetta (and if you have a grill, use it to toast fresh bread while you’re at it). In the spring, turn fresh baby peas into a luxurious dip for everything from chips to crudités. In late winter, slice a few radishes and put them on top of buttered bread, and in fall, use some puff pastry to turn your favorite vegetables into a simple, savory tart.
Make It Ahead to Save Even More Time
If you like the idea of having a nightly aperitif but don’t know if you’ll have the energy to really commit to it, I hear you, and I have a solution: Meal prep your aperitif! Choose something that will stay good for a while, like homemade hummus, tapenade, or salsa, and make it over the weekend when you do have the energy. That way, when you get home from work and you’re too hungry to wait until dinner, you’ll already have an aperitif waiting for you in the fridge.
Who says snack time can’t feel fancy?