At first, I thought it was the airport. But that's l'aéro. L'apéro – with a “p” – loosely translates from French as 'the cocktail hour."

There was a time in the United States - the 1950s and 1960s - when people gathered at one another's homes for cocktails. It was the thing to do. Perhaps, pre-dinner, or pre-theater (with dinner after the show), or simply just for cocktails.

Mark and I, with a few friends in Maine, tried to revive the tradition in the aughts but something went terribly wrong. It turned into dinner and a four-hour commitment. Never the plan, but always fun.

The French have made an art form of l'apéro, and everyone invited knows the rules. A drink (or two), a few nibbles, and then you are on your way. An hour or so...

Not too much of a commitment... like speed dating, in a sense.

The beverages for l'apéro vary. It could be Pastis, Lillet, Campari-soda, any number of cocktails, or a special bottle of wine.

The food also varies, from a simple bowl of nuts or olives, to a plate of hors d'œuvres made by the host.

It's a pleasant way to entertain without the stress of a full meal.

After all, it's about being with friends, sharing stories, and a few laughs. (I try to avoid politics, as they can often sour the sweetest of drinks and, these days, they are more frightening than funny.)

Susan, from the Modern Trobadors, wrote a nice piece about l'apéro called Things to Know in Provence.

Today, for l'apéro, I made some zucchini and shrimp fritters with a saffron mayonnaise. And, as we are in the thick of our hottest part of summer, I chose a perfectly chilled bottle of Château Miraval's 2015 rosé. To read more about the wine and food pairing, please visit the Provence WineZine.


~ David

Zucchini and Shrimp Fritters, Saffron Mayonnaise

8 ounces small zucchini
8 ounces raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large egg
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
olive oil, for frying
saffron mayonnaise, for garnish
3 or 4 chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Grate the zucchini using the large holes of a box grater into a colander lined with a linen towel. Sprinkle with a little salt, toss, sprinkle with more salt, and toss again. Set aside for 10 minutes to sweat.

Dice the shrimp, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, blend together the egg, flour, and milk. Using the linen towel, squeeze the zucchini to release the accumulated water. Add the zucchini to the egg batter along with the diced shrimp and the chopped tarragon.

Using a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Use a tablespoon to make the fritters, dolloping them directly into the heated oil as you go. Flatten them with the back of the spoon. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook for 2 minutes per side, or until deep golden brown. Remove fritters to paper towels to remove any excess oil, then serve on a decorative platter. Top each with a small dab of saffron mayonnaise, and sprinkle with a few chopped chives. Wipe the skillet clean and repeat the process with new oil and any remaining batter.

Makes 18 fritters, serving 4-6 friends for l'apéro.

Saffron Mayonnaise

1 large egg
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon compacted saffron threads
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, preferably white pepper
1 cup canola oil

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine the egg, lemon juice, mustard and saffron. Pulse to combine and let sit a minute. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper and pulse again to mix. Then, with the machine running, slowly and in a very steady stream no wider than 1/8-inch, pour in the canola oil. By the time the oil is used up, you should have a perfect mayonnaise. You will need a couple of tablespoons for this recipe.

It can be used right away, but if refrigerated for a few hours or overnight, the flavors will meld and seem richer.

Refrigerate the remainder for another use (it makes a great egg, potato, shrimp, or chicken salad).

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

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