I must rejoice beyond the bounds of time…even though the world be appalled at my joy, and in its coarseness knows not what I mean.
-Ruysbroeck the Admirable (from Huysmans’ “Against Nature”)

It’s only February 3 and I’ve already broken one of my resolutions for the new year: did I not, back when 2011 had just arrived, promise you a cocktail every week or every other week…? I believe I did and, despite my best intentions, have since delivered only one time. But we both know that it was such a good cocktail that it was obviously going to be hard to top.

It’s a good thing I’m nothing if not enterprising. And, even more importantly, skilled at doing research. 😉

Even in spite of all that, there’s still the issue of time; some drinks just require more thought and obscure ingredients than others. Of course, that doesn’t even begin to address the time question and how to balance everything that you have to do–from slowly destroying your eyesight for the sake of scholarly endeavors to making sure to keep up with dear friends both local and thousands of miles away–which can be overwhelming when you get down to the nitty gritty. But perhaps that’s even more of a reason for a stiff drink?

So, in short, I finally pulled my act together, went to Trader Joe’s and, when I saw the fennel bulbs that I’ve had on my grocery list since mid-January and couldn’t find despite the fact that they’re in season now, my mission was clear: A Campari-Fennel Aperitif it would be! One trip to a cute and local store later, and a newly purchased cocktail shaker in my hand, and I was ready to spruce up Tuesday night’s dinner. After having read hundreds of pages of archaic Russian font and several nearly back-breaking trips to the library, I knew I had earned it. The goal of an aperitif is, after all, to refresh and to whet the appetite–to help you ease into the meal.

What better than the famous “Red Passion” (the posters from the 1920s ad campaign really were racy, yet elegant!) and its promise of a bitterness that is, despite everything, downright delicious? Given the look of the poster, it’s probably the very appeal of a romance that would itself turn bitter, which caught the eye of potential buyers…Tortured romance is, after all, probably the best seller of all time. But we can’t discount that the color, too, is fun to look at it; hints of passion aside, Campari just looks happy. Or maybe like it could provide happiness. In any case, best not to over-analyze what is, ultimately, a wonderful aperitif, full of things that should taste bitter, but that are somehow lightened by the presence of dry sparkling wine and simple syrup, the eternal crowd pleaser that puts packets of sugar to shame.

Should you be in the mood for a little pre-dinner pick me up or would just like to dine French style and feel a bit fancy for the evening, this aperitif is the way to go.

Campari Fennel Aperitif

From Neal Bodenheimer’s article on “Mad Cocktails” in Food and Wine
Yields 1 drink

For the simple syrup:

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

-Combine the two in a small saucepan.
-Simmer over low to moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
-Let cool.
-This can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.

For the cocktail:

Handful of fennel fronds, plus 1 small sprig for garnish
2-3 lemon wheels
2 ounces dry sparkling wine
3/4 – 1 ounce Campari (this is according to your preferences; for the sake of easy measuring, I went with one ounce)
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Ice

-In a cocktail shaker, combine the fennel fronds with the lemon wheels, sparkling wine, Campari and simple syrup.
-Muddle 20 times (unlike when I was following the brownie recipe, I failed to count my “muddles,” so I would say that the goal here is just to make sure that things are amply muddled without bringing counting into the game).
-Add ice and shake well.
-Strain into an ice-filled glass.
-Squeeze the lemon peel and add it to the glass.
-Garnish with the fennel sprig and serve.

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