Modern takes on classic Italian liquors

Amaro and Cream

Most people are familiar with milk- or cream-based drinks featuring the coffee and chocolate flavors of Kahlua or crème de cacao.  But for a more sophisticated take on the “mudslide” family, try using Amaro Montenegro, an herbal, bittersweet liquor with notes of molasses, clove, and orange peel.  Tasty in wintry drinks like mulled cider and coffee, Amaro is also served neat, on the rocks, or in club soda, as an aperitivo (pre-dinner beverage).  But the addition of cream makes it a wonderful holiday drink, and a great departure for adventuresome drinkers bored with Bailey’s or egg nog.

Makes 2 drinks


4 ounces Amaro Montenegro

4 ounces cream

nutmeg, freshly grated


In a cocktail shaker combine the Amaro, cream, and ice.  Shake until the shaker develops condensation on the outside, about 30 seconds.  Pour into your glass of choice — martini glasses or larger cordial glasses work well. Garnish with fresh nutmeg.

Note: Will want to also have on hand club soda, a bottle of ginger beer, or ginger ale, to show alternatives to how the amaro may be served.

Herbal Lemon-Prosecco Sparkler

For a Mother’s Day brunch, unexpected summertime guests, or way to spruce up a weeknight meal, this “grown up” lemonade is far less sweet than the bottled varieties of hard lemonade in your local liquor store.  Prosecco is Italian sparkling wine and though far less expensive than its Champagne counterpart, it’s no less tasty.  The recipe is perfect as-is, but the addition of fresh rosemary or thyme to the lemon simple syrup adds depth and additional flavor notes to this reliable, crowd-pleaser-of-a-punch. 

Makes approximately 8 drinks


3 lemons, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1 bottle Prosecco, chilled

3/4 cup best-quality vodka, chilled

1 small bunch fresh rosemary or one small bunch fresh thyme (optional)


With a vegetable peeler, remove zest from each lemon in a long, continuous spiral.  Juice the lemons, and strain the pulp (you should have about 3/4 cup juice).  Set aside.

Heat sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved.  Add two sprigs of your herb of choice, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.  Add zest. Let syrup cool completely, about two hours.

Into a pitcher pour Prosecco, vodka, lemon juice, and syrup with the zests.  Serve the punch with a candied peel in each glass.

House-made Amaretto Sour

Amaretto di Saronno dates to the 16th century and was first made in the town of Saronno, Italy.  Made from almonds and apricots this sweet liqueur lends itself best to fruity flavors and is a wonderful addition to fruit salads or sorbets. Equally tasty in coffee drinks, it’s most often paired with sour mix. But avoid the cloying store-made stuff for this simple recipe of two ounces of citrus to one tablespoon of your preferred sweetener.  Here I use low-glycemic, all-natural agavé nectar, and for a twist, molasses — which pairs nicely with the amaretto’s almond flavor and is more aligned with Italy’s love of all-things agro-dolce (bitter and sweet). Either choice is a winner.

2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 ounces Amaretto di Saronno

1 tablespoon agavé nectar or unsulfured, dark (“robust”) molasses


In a cocktail shaker or bowl combine lemon juice and agaves nectar or molasses; mix well. Add the amaretto; mix, and pour over ice in a short glass. Garnish with lemon wedge.

(Note: Will want to make two drinks — one with the agaves, and one with the molasses, to show difference in color, etc.)

Sambuca-Citrus Martini

Anything can be a martini these days, but an often-overlooked ingredient is sambuca, the liqueur made from the perfect infusion of elderberries, aniseed, and licorice, in clear alcohol, along with some other secret herbs that makes this a treat of a drink. Sambuca is a fun addition to vanilla ice-cream frappes and mixes well with cream and coffee, but is most often served on the rocks with three whole coffee beans in it for good luck. This martini, however, is a shaken-not-stirred with citrus flavors that really balance out sambuca’s sweetness. Don’t forget the bitters, made from distilled fruit, peels, and roots and bark of fruit trees: they make the drink a lovely shade of orange and add necessary depth. 

Makes 1 drink

2 ounces Absolut Citron, Ketel One Citronelle, or comparable best-quality citrus vodka

3/4 ounce sambuca

6 dashes bitters (Angostura and Stirrings are two good brands)

splash freshly squeezed lemon juice


Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with about a cup of ice cubes.  Shake until the shaker develops condensation on the outside, about 30 seconds.  Pour into a martini glass.

Campari and (… fill in the blank) 

I’m not going to lie to you: No amount of money can get me to drink Campari. But millions of Italians and Campari-lovers every day partake in what is likely Italy’s most well known liqueur made by Gaaspare Campari in 1860. Made from a super-secret combination of steeped herbs and other things no one else knows about, Campari is in the “bitters” family and will be a palate cleanser either pre- or post-dinner. Here are some suggestions for making Italy’s most popular Campari cocktails: 


1 bottle Campari

1 bottle prosecco

1 bottle club soda

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice 

Campari Soda

Fill an iced tea glass with ice. Add 2 ounces of Campari and top with club soda. Stir.

Campari on the rocks

Fill a highball glass with ice. Top with Campari. Stir.

Campari Citrus

In a highball glass with ice add 2 ounces of Campari, 4 ounces of orange juice, and a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Top with club soda. 

Campari Kir

In a Champagne flute add two ounces of Campari; top with prosecco


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This recipe was featured on Season 19 - Episode 1922.

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