I rarely post about drinks in this space. Truth is, until recently I hadn’t a clue how to mix a good drink. My bar was “stocked” with two bottles of Kahlua, a half-empty jug of Bailey’s, and the brandy and sherry I use in cooking. For a nice, hard drink, I went around the corner and plopped my derriere at a bar. So it was.
I’m pretty sure it was Jen, from Last Night’s Dinner, who, in a sort of roundabout way, kickstarted my newfound intrigue in liquor and the cool things you can do with it. (I sound a little bit like I just had my 21st birthday, I know.) It’s ironic, since Jen’s husband, Mike, is the real drink expert. He blogs at A Dash of Bitters and writes a drink column for Serious Eats Drinks. But it was Jen who got me started. Earlier this year, Jen posted a recipe on Food52 for linguine with sardines, tomato, and fennel. That dish became one of my addictions this past winter, and I made it probably once a week. It’s a beautiful recipe, in which long pasta meets melted fennel, bright tomato, briny sardines, toasted bread crumbs, and…dry vermouth.
Vermouth, I came to learn, is a fortified wine. There’s sweet vermouth and dry vermouth. I’ve come to think that in cooking, dry vermouth is to white wine what shallots are to onions: more complex, more buttery, more exciting. I still cook with plenty of white wine, but especially in savory dishes, I turn more and more to dry vermouth.
Then there’s sweet vermouth, which has about half as sweet as port and, again, fortified with various herbs and spices. I’ve used it in chicken dishes to impart a gentle sweetness with plenty of flavor. The stuff is really, really good.
In my urban kitchen, where we’re perpetually in negotiations about the necessity of every utensil or appliance, the vermouth functioned as a new toy. It was great in food, but I wondered about its potential in, of all places, the glass.
I started playing with vermouth-based cocktails, this and this. But I have both a terrible memory and a penchant for not following recipes so well, and when those two things combine, you’ve got yourself a terrible mixologist. So at the end of the day, I’ve come to favor a cocktail that’s as easy to memorize as it is to quaff: the Negroni.
A Negroni is 1 part gin, 1 part Campari, and 1 part sweet vermouth. Let’s discuss: gin, you know. Campari is an apertif, a liquor infused with herbs and spices, that’s notable for its bright red color and its mysterious bitterness. It’s great with just soda, but it’s even better when it meets gin and sweet vermouth. The result is a sweet but bracing cocktail, perfect to serve your guests before dinner. If that dinner is, say, a 4th of July barbecue, all the better. Negronis will gear everyone up for burgers and cherry pie.
Other July 4th menu ideas:
Not So Potato-y Salad
Asian Cabbage Salad
Cucumber Avocado Soup
Jam-Filled Hand Pies
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Now, if you’re a drink expert, please don’t freak out about the picture at the top of this post. Negronis should be served on the rocks, I know. But you see, our normal ice trays broke, leaving us only with the ice trays meant for water bottles, which produce long, skinny ice logs that sit very awkwardly in our cocktail glasses. Left with no choice, I stirred our Negronis on plenty of ice, but poured them off into our glasses without the frozen, so we wouldn’t be whacked by ice logs while sipping our drinks. So be it.
2 oz. gin (I used Plymouth – no need to use Hendricks or anything too fancy here)
2 oz. Campari
2 oz. sweet vermouth
Combine ingredients in an old fashioned glass. Stir, and serve.
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I’m an old lady. There are drinks I enjoy (Manhattans, Gin and Tonic), but there is the drink I had to learn to mix myself. No one seemed to ever want one with me. Aargh.. gin. Or aargh.. sweet vermouth. So all mine. The greatest drink: The Negroni. Now I’m warmed to have the frequent opportunity to order it out and not get a puzzled look back.