When we lived in Nice, Le Chef and I loved inviting friends over for L’Apéro at our house. Similar to cocktail hour but with more food, L’Apéro is an informal, yet chic, way to entertain that does not require a lot of investment or preparation and creates a wonderful evening!
It has become a well choreographed routine for Le Chef and I. I set the table with small plates for food and big glasses for wine while I sashay to the Brazilian Bossa Nova music I have selected. Le Chef displays the food in little dishes and bowls that he artfully arranges around the table, ensuring that the table looks as good as the food would taste. Mini spoons and forks are added to each dish, cloth napkins are pressed and the end result is always the right note of informal elegance.
Typically nothing has to be cooked for an Apéro (a bonus on a Chef’s rare night of!), we are able to lay out all the food in advance so that when our guests arrive, we can spend the evening thoroughly enjoying their company. The best Apéros are always the ones that bleed into dinner time and before you know it, you have spent hours laughing and having meaningful conversations over Rosé, Martini blanc or Pastis!
Here are my tips for hosting a chic Apéro in your home:
Les Invités – The Guests
Apéros are best for no more than 5-6 people. Conversation is key and it is even better when everyone can share in one discussion. The French love to engage in meaningful conversations and the living room, or around high counter in the kitchen is a great way to do it. An Apéro invitation is also a great way to welcome new friends into your fold. Not as intimidating as a dinner invitation, an Apéro makes for a great first date for new friends.
Quand – When
L’Apéro takes place before dinner. Remembering that dinner in France usually starts late (8pm-ish) a start time of around 5 or 6pm is ideal. People with kids also love Apéros as it implies that one can be home in time to put the little ones to bed.
Quoi servir? What to serve?
I have been to Apéros as simple as a bowl of salty chips or nuts served alongside some cherry tomatoes, though I must admit, Le Chef and I like to have a little more fun in the food department. The general rule is that everything must be easy to eat, either with a toothpick or your fingers and cooking is very minimal. Here is what we serve for our Apéros at home:
Wine is the classic. In the summer we serve a crisp Provençal Rosé like Chateau Miraval and in the winter a beautiful rich Burgundy or coarse Bandol. Apéro can also be exceptional with apéritif drinks such as Pastis, Apérol or Campari.
A small dish of olives is a must on our table. I like to go to Whole Foods’ Olive Bar and take a selection of olives ( almonds or garlic stuffed olives, spicy olives, kalamata and olives Niçoises if they have them
You can easily buy spiced nuts, but I like to make my own for our Apéros. They are so easy to make! Take 2 cups of Pecans, sauté in a non-stick pan with a half stick of butter over medium heat. Add a generous drizzle of maple syrup as well as some chili flakes to taste. Once the pecans are coated with the maple syrup and butter, take them off the heat and pour them on to a non-stick cookie sheet to cool. They are SO good and are always a hit!
Cherry tomatoes are a classic Apéro dish. If I am feeling fancy, I will add a half of a mini boccini on a toothpick on top of my cherry tomato and top with a slice of basil. It is like a mini Caprese salad on a stick! Radishes are also a favorite. Served with a little butter and salt, they are the perfect complement to a glass of Rosé.
Cured sausage is a favorite of mine. The saltiness of the sausage pairs so well with cocktails. A Genoa sausage or any other dried sausage you can find in the deli section of your local gourmet shop works perfectly. If you can find the Corsican Figatelli in the USA, please tell me where you found it!!
Really, anything works here. Choose what you enjoy! Le Chef and I tend to go for Comté and Gruyère We cut them into slivers that our guests can easily pick up and eat. C’est gourmand! On special occasions we will add a fresh goat cheese with fig jam or else a Truffled Manchego. When we find a good Camembert, we will add that as well.
If you are looking for something with a little more consistency, a Provençal Pizza, cut up into little squares is a perfect addition. Quiche, Bruschetta or Pissaladière ( an onion tart) are also excellent additions.