Just as many Pugliese must start dinner with an aperitivo so it is traditional to end it with a digestivo.
Digestivi will aid digestion and promote a feeling of satiety and good humour after a large meal. It is also the perfect excuse to stay a little longer and enjoy good company. Whether at home or in a restaurant, a good host will offer an amaro. In restaurants this is often on the house.
Consider yourself especially welcome if your host leaves the bottle on the table, allowing guests to refill liberally.
Particularly popular digestivi in Puglia, which are often home made, include:
- Amaro: Amaro is a bitter herbal liqueur. It is made from a variety of herbs and spices, such as gentian, anise, and rhubarb, and is often consumed straight or with ice. In Puglia it is often served at home from the freezer.
- Limoncello: a sweet and tangy lemon liqueur that is often served chilled. Limoncello is made by steeping lemon peels in alcohol and sugar syrup, and is a popular specialty of the Puglia Guys!
- Grappa: a strong, clear brandy that is made by distilling the skins, pulp, and seeds of grapes after they have been used to make wine. Known for its intense flavor and high alcohol content.
Each region of Italy has its own unique specialty, and the choice of digestivo often depends on personal taste and tradition. Elsewhere in Italy you might be offered:
- Sambuca, an anise-flavored liqueur. It is usually served with three coffee beans, which are said to represent health, wealth, and happiness. In Puglia Sambuca is more common served as ‘caffè corretto’ during the day. A shot of espresso with a small amount of the liquor.
- In northern Italy Fernet, a bitter, aromatic spirit made from a blend of herbs and spices, such as saffron, myrrh, and cardamom
Allorino or bay leaf liqueur is particularly popular in Italy’s southern regions. Also known as ‘Liquore alle Foglie di Alloro’ (alloro = bay leaf in Italian) it is made by steeping bay leaves in alcohol and sugar syrup.
As a digestivo it is said to have a calming and soothing effect on the digestive system and, of course, medicinal benefits. Bay leaves are known for their anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antioxidant properties, and are believed to be effective in treating respiratory problems, arthritis, and digestive issues.
Here’s how we make it:
- 35 fresh bay leaves
- 500 ml of 96% alcohol
- 400 grams of sugar
- 600 ml of water
- Rinse the bay leaves in cold water and pat them dry.
- Place the bay leaves in a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Pour the alcohol over the bay leaves, making sure they are completely covered.
- Close the jar tightly and let it sit for 15-20 days in a dark and cool place, shaking it every day to ensure that the flavors are well mixed.
- After the 15-20 days, prepare a sugar syrup by dissolving the sugar in water over medium heat. Stir constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved, then let the syrup cool.
- Strain the alcohol and bay leaves through a fine mesh strainer, discarding the leaves.
- Add the sugar syrup to the alcohol and mix well.
- Pour the liqueur into bottles and let it rest for a few days before serving.
Note: If the alcohol content is too strong, you can dilute it with water before adding the sugar syrup to your desired strength. Also, the amount of sugar can be adjusted to your own taste.