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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

In France, they don’t snack. They apéro.



Pink peppercorn-marinated goat cheese. Marinating goat cheese is an easy and delicious way to impress your guests and yourself. (Linda Xiao/The New York Times)

By Rebekah Peppler


Barring the afternoon snack of school children, it’s true: Snacking between meals isn’t really a thing in France. Unless, of course, you swap in the word snack for “apéro.” Pausing for a drink and small bite during apéritif hour is sacred across France — and easily translates to your own backyard.


The word apéritif, derived from the Latin “aperire” or “to open,” refers both to a set of low alcohol-by-volume bottles (such as vermouth, sherry or Suze) as well as drinks. Meant to whet the appetite and always paired with a small, savory bite, l’apéro often takes place during the transition from day to evening, though a lunchtime apéro isn’t unheard-of.


The apéritifs should lean dry, modest in alcohol and simple: a glass of still or sparkling wine, a beer or a simple mixed drink, such as a classic Kir, Vermouth spritz or Picon Bière.


Or you can make the All Day Cassis. I often batch the combination of dry vermouth, lemon juice and crème de cassis, then top with tonic and sparkling rosé on site. If children are joining — and, in France where the culture of the apéritif is woven into daily life, they often are — or if you’re abstaining, your drink of choice could be a flavored sparkling water, a bitter-leaning soda or a nonalcoholic tonic with lemon.


The goal here is to open your palate, and yourself, up for the meal to come, and an apéro is no apéro at all without a snack. Once you have your drink sorted, look to something small and savory. If you don’t feel like cooking, do as the French do: open a bag of chips, a container of salted nuts or a jar of olives. Alternatively, transfer a favorite store-bought dip to a prettier vessel and pair with crunchy vegetables or crusty bread. You get the idea.


If you’re willing to put in a touch more effort, make a quick tapenade with your choice of green or black olives, or a simple pink peppercorn marinated chèvre. I first had this very pretty, very easy to make goat cheese snack at the local market in Antibes, and now I make it weekly. To prepare, cover a round of bright white chèvre in olive oil, sprinkle with dried herbs and a shock of pink peppercorns, and let sit for a few hours (or overnight). Add a baguette and it’s elevated snacking at its best.


You can (and should) apéro at home, certainly. But its beauty lies in its portability. When the weather is nice, grab a stack of less-breakable cups and a few napkins and step into the sun, whether it be on a terrace or patio, in a garden or backyard, or on a grass-stained picnic blanket in the park.


Wherever you are and whatever you call it, make it as simple as these three recipes.



Pink peppercorn-marinated goat cheese


This simple recipe from “Le Sud: Recipes From Provence-Alpes-Côte D’Azur” recalls mornings in Antibes, a charming seaside peninsula between Cannes and Nice. If you find yourself there, wandering the market on Cours Masséna, make your way to the cheese stall and order the tomette à l’huile, a round of bright white chèvre in olive oil. Or ask for the freshest chèvre and make it yourself, as in this recipe. With a baguette, your afternoon is set.



Yield: 1 (3-inch) round

Total time: 10 minutes, plus at least 2 hours marinating



Ingredients:


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed

6 ounces fresh goat cheese (chèvre), either 1 (3-inch) round or a small log cut into rounds, sliced about 3/4-inch thick

1 tablespoon whole pink peppercorns

1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence



Preparation:


1. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the bottom of a clean, sterilized wide-mouthed jar or a bowl just big enough to fit the cheese. Add the cheese to the jar and top with peppercorns and herbes de Provence. Pour the remaining olive oil over the top (it should cover the cheese completely; if it doesn’t, add more to cover).

2. Cover the jar and marinate for 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. The marinated goat cheese can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 week and brought to room temperature before serving. Serve the cheese in the oil, and use a baguette to make sure none of it gets left behind.



All day cassis


This combination of dry vermouth, lemon, crème de cassis, dry tonic and sparkling rosé is bright and refreshingly bubbly any time of day. The small add of crème de cassis (a black currant-based liqueur) balances the drink’s acidity, while a pinch of flaky sea salt smooths and enhances flavors. The drink can be made to serve one, as written, or the mix of vermouth-lemon-crème de cassis can be batched in advance, then poured over ice and topped with dry tonic and sparkling rosé just before serving.



Yield: 1 drink

Total time: 5 minutes



Ingredients:


1 ounce dry vermouth

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1/4 ounce crème de cassis

Pinch flaky sea salt

1 ounce dry tonic, chilled

3 ounces dry sparkling rosé, chilled

1 lemon slice



Preparation:


Fill a lowball glass with ice. Add the vermouth, lemon juice, crème de cassis and salt. Top with tonic and sparkling rosé. Stir gently to combine, then garnish with the lemon slice.



Tapenade


Tapenade, arguably the best known Provençal spread (and cousin to olivade, garlicky anchoïade and peppery poivronade, among others) is made by pounding together olives, garlic, anchovies, capers and olive oil in a large mortar. But, this version, from “Le Sud: Recipes From Provence-Alpes-Côte D’Azur,” can be made in a food processor as well, with green or black olives. Set it out for apéro with crunchy vegetables or crusty bread, or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for whenever the mood strikes. It will keep up to a week.



Yield: 4 to 6 servings (about 3/4 cup)

Total time: 10 minutes



Ingredients:


2 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped

3 anchovies, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed, drained and roughly chopped

3/4 cup pitted black olives (such as Niçoise or Kalamata) or green olives (such as Picholine or Lucques), roughly chopped

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper



Preparation:


1. If using a mortar and pestle, place the garlic in a mortar and grind until a rough paste forms. Add the anchovies and capers, and pound them, scraping the sides of the mortar often, until they are smashed into a mostly smooth paste. Add the olives and pound into a slightly chunky paste. Slowly add the oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, smashing until it’s all combined. Season with pepper.

2. If using a food processor, place the garlic in the bowl and pulse until finely chopped, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary with a flexible spatula. Add the anchovies and capers, and pulse, scraping the sides often, until they are finely ground. Add the olives and pulse until a slightly chunky paste forms. With the food processor running, slowly pour in the oil until it’s all combined, stopping to scrape once or twice. Season with pepper.

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