Campari is my poison of choice. And poison it is too – as red as the devil himself, bitter, pungent and shrouded in mystery. Developed by Gaspare Campari in 1860, the recipe remains a top secret, and the only two known ingredients are alcohol and water. The rest of this marvellous mixture is made up of a secret combination of aromatic herbs and fruit.
Gaspare cooked up the special concoction in the back of his bar/cafe in Novara, and his wife, Letizia (my name-sake), was later to take over the business and run it after his death. Perhaps no coincidence, then, that I should have such a profound love for Campari.
It began when I was 18 and visited Venice for the first time. In every piazza there sat glamorous women in oversized sunglasses sipping a vicious red drink – a drink which glowed like a lantern in the night. With the glowing glass in one dainty, manicured hand they smoked cigarettes and ate salted crisps with the other. I was desperate to find out what that drink was, and to have one, chiefly as it appeared to arrive with the said bowl of crisps in a small knapkin-lined bowl, and I love crisps. I ordered one. Sure enough my crisps were brought, and I tried my first Campari soda. It was icy cold and bitter, so bitter, medicinal. I almost hated it. But then I drank some more and ate some crisps and the salt tempered it, and it became more palatable. By the time I finished it I has almost grown to like it and - as I was by now determined - I ordered another.
Like olives, coffee and cigarettes, Campari takes a bit of getting used to. When I was young, I thought it was terribly sophisticated to eat olives, so I trained myself to like them. I felt the same about black coffee. As I grew older, my palate changed, and I grew to love the bitter flavour of both of these things, and not just to love them, but to crave them. I feel the same way about Campari now. It is the liquid epitome of bittersweetness, or dolce amaro. And as such it is the perfect aperitif, it complements salty things, green olives or plain crisps, and it sharpens the senses and awakens the palate for what is to follow.
Campari is almost always drunk with a slice of orange inside. The aromatics from the skin of the orange enhance those in the drink itself, and it is also delicious drunk with the juice of the orange itself. This combination makes one of my favourite sorbets. Just as a Campari rejuvenates the palate before eating, so it refreshes it afterwards, and this sorbet is the perfect end to a spring/summer lunch or dinner.
It is hard to give precise measurements for this sorbet, as it depends very much on the sweetness of the oranges you use. Blood oranges vary wildly, so it is essential that you taste this and adjust the sweetness accordingly.
In this recipe I used the premixed Campari Soda, because we always have them in the fridge. If you can’t find them then substitute it for 60ml of pure Campari.
400ml blood orange juice
1 small bottle of Campari soda (100ml)
juice 1 lemon
finely grated zest 1 blood orange
Heat the sugar over a low flame with the grated zest and the Campari until it has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil for 2 minutes to form a simple syrup.
Meanwhile squeeze the oranges. Strain the juice and add to the syrup. (here, if you like, you can strain out the zest too, though I like to leave it in).
Mix well and add the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning.
Chill and churn in an ice cream maker. (If you don't have a machine, don't worry, make it a granita instead, and simply mash the frozen mass up with a fork.) Remove from the freezer and leave at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.