In my early twenties, I lived in Florence for a year on a street called Via degli Artisti with a wonderful painter named Fiorella, a sandy blonde with a scratchy voice and a deep affection for card games, rum, and cigars. We were a 10-minute ride on our rusty bicycles from the heart of city, and a brisk five-minute walk from the main market near Santa Maria Novella. The first warm sunny days of spring always remind me of Fiorella and how she would wake up each morning, fling open the kitchen doors, and step onto our tiny terrazza to water the scented geraniums on the railing. She’d come back into the kitchen and fresh squeeze two glasses of blood orange juice by hand, one for each of us.
The fruits Fiorella juiced were called Moro oranges. Grown in Sicily, they tasted more like fresh raspberries than any kind of orange I had ever tasted, with flesh ranging from deep orange to dark burgundy. I lived for these oranges and those mornings when Fiorella made me sit down with her for breakfast.
As I wait here at home for the flora of the season to pop, I scan my imagination for ways to conjure spring. I keep a keen eye on the oily green rhubarb leaves peeking out of the soil in my raised bed. I visit the micro clusters of lemon balm daily – but it’s still too soon to pick it. And the asparagus nowhere in sight. And so I find solace in fresh oranges at this time of year – so sweet and so abundant – though I know that the harvest must be on its last legs. Clementines and minneolas will slowly but surely trickle out of season, soon to be replaced with the awe of artichokes, fiddleheads, and fresh nettles.
One of my favorite epiphanies from my time in Florence came in the form of a cocktail. I call it the Aperture; it’s a proverbial widening of the lens, if you will. By embracing the intensely sweet and bitter amaro I was learning to expand my palate. This era of my life came to define how I would balance flavors in my current bartending style. The Aperture is a marriage of two of my favorite classic drinks, the Aperol spritz (a quaffable mix of the bitter aperitif, prosecco, and soda water) and the Negroni (equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth). Every café in Florence serves their own version of a Negroni during aperitivo (cocktail hour), complemented by a bowl of olives or nuts, or sometimes a bigger spread of cured meats, cheese, and crostini topped with anything from fresh seafood to tiny slices of hotdog. (During aperitivo, anything is possible.)
For the Aperture, I’ve used equal parts gin, blood orange juice, and Aperol then topped it off with prosecco. Aperol is an Italian aperitif made from a blend of bitter and sweet oranges, cinchona bark, gentian root, and a slew of other herbs that give it a fruity and floral kick. An exclamatory shade of orange-red, Aperol is lighter, less peppery, and more citrusy that its cousin, Campari.
The Aperture’s soft, fruity notes come from the blood orange juice, which adds a lush texture and depth to the spritz, mellowing any sharp edges from the gin and fortifying the citrusy notes of the Aperol. I garnish it with a wheel of blood orange and a sprig of rose-scented geranium, which sends me right back to the terrace on Via degli Artisti. It’s the perfect cocktail to sip as I soak in the newly warm air, the excited chatter of birds, the vibrant greens of blossoms to come, and other harbingers of spring. It’s also my last hurrah for blood oranges, and an ode to my hero, Fiorella.
makes one drink
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Aperol
1 ounce fresh blood orange juice
splash of prosecco
blood orange wheel, for garnish
rose-scented geranium for garnish (optional)
In a bar tin, combine the gin, Aperol, and blood orange juice over ice. Shake vigorously for 5 seconds to combine ingredients then strain into a coupe glass. Top with chilled prosecco and garnish with a blood orange wheel and a sprig of rose-scented geranium, if you’ve got one handy.
For Fiorella, my Italian queen.