September cocktail of the month: the negroni

by Great British Chefs 29 September 2022

A stalwart of cocktail menus all over the world, the negroni may be an acquired taste but has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years. We find out more about the origins of this distinctly Italian cocktail and suggest some dishes that work perfectly alongside it.

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The simplest things are so often the best – a phrase which rings particularly true in the world of food and drink. The combination of a just a few uncomplicated ingredients, in many cases, trumps far more complex creations, and few cocktails better demonstrate this than the negroni; composed of three spirits (gin, Campari and vermouth rosso) mixed together in equal parts and served over ice, the sophistication of a negroni is a result of its simplicity.

A cocktail undoubtably most commonly associated with Italy, where it is somewhat of a symbol of aperitivo, negronis aren’t a drink which you’ll necessarily fall in love with at the first time of trying but the more accustomed one becomes to their bitter taste, the more irresistible they become. A perfectly mixed negroni after all, should balance the bitterness of Campari with the sweetness of vermouth and the citrus of the traditional orange garnish. Although predominantly associated with the warmer months, the negroni has fast become a cocktail that’s drunk right the way through the year, whether by itself or alongside food. And as we slowly creep into autumn, we’d actually argue that a punchy negroni is the ideal tonic to the cooler weather.

Given the simplicity of a negroni, it may surprise you to know that the classic cocktail has actually been through a few different iterations over the years, before becoming the drink as we know it today. The negroni’s earliest ancestor is believed to be the Milano-Torino – a cocktail first served in none other than drinks manufacturer Gaspare Campari’s very own Milan bar in the 1860s. Consisting of sweet vermouth mixed, unsurprisingly, with Campari, the Milano-Torino soon became popular with Americans visiting Milan, who would sometimes ask for soda water to be added to the cocktail. Over time, this modified version of the Milano-Torino became known as an americano – a cocktail still readily available today.

Fast forward to 1919, and a young Florentine count named Camillo Negroni, who had recently returned from America, wandered into a bar in Florence called Caffe Casoni and asked bartender Forsco Scarselli to mix him a stronger version of an americano – his favourite cocktail. Scarselli replaced the traditional soda water with gin and garnished the drink with a slice orange; without realising it, he had just created a concoction which would be drunk all over the world for many years to come. Word quickly spread about Scarselli’s hybrid cocktail, which was eventually named after the man who had first requested it, and people began visiting Caffe Casoni specifically to try it.

Within a matter of years, negronis were being served in bars all across Italy, soon becoming even more popular than their predecessor. Today, the negroni is seen on menus all over the world and has become synonymous with the tradition of aperitivo in Italy, whilst personifying elegance. In the UK, people are just as crazy about the bittersweet drink, whether enjoyed as a pre-dinner dinner drink or a post-prandial treat. There’s even an annual negroni week, where bars can show-off their own take on the now-classic cocktail.

Negronis may be relatively simple to mix at home as cocktails go, but they do require you to buy in three different spirits, which isn’t always practical or affordable. Moreover, sometimes you want things to just be as easy as possible when making drinks at home. That’s exactly why MOTH have created their trend-leading range of ready-to-drink canned cocktails, which have all the sophistication of a freshly-made cocktail but simply need opening and pouring into a glass. MOTH only use premium spirits in their cocktails and for their negroni, have partnered with Tarquin’s Gin and English vermouth makers, Asterley Bros, to ensure it’s a drink of the finest quality. Whether cracked open as an aperitif for guests at a dinner party, or saved for a cosy night in, MOTH’s negroni is a guaranteed winner.

In the mood for a negroni but unsure what to cook alongside it? Get inspired by these autumnal recipes, all of which sit brilliantly alongside this punchy cocktail.

Venison bolognese fritters with Parmesan

These venison Bolognese fritters from Adam Byatt are great way to take advantage of game season and make a perfect canapé to serve at an autumnal dinner party alongside glasses of negroni – a true British take on aperitivo!

Figs and gorgonzola

Looking to keep things nice and simple? This starter of figs served with gorgonzola is really just a case of assembly, but the combination of sweet figs and strong blue cheese is unquestionably delicious. A bitter negroni served on the side is a great way of cutting through the rich gorgonzola.

Root vegetable and chestnut bolognese

In this autumnal take on a classic Bolognese, Phil Howard uses root vegetables and chestnuts in the place of beef to create an ultra-comforting, vegetarian pasta dish. Serve with an ice-cold negroni for a true taste of Italy.

Celeriac salad with hazelnuts, truffle and Berkswell cheese

Make use of celeriac whilst it’s at its best with this indulgent salad from Chris Shaw, which comes adorned with truffle and grated Berkswell cheese, and is finished with a nutty hazelnut dressing. What better way of complementing this rich dish than with a tumbler full of sweet yet sharp negroni?

Spiced Spanish persimon and custard tart

Spiced with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, this persimmon-topped custard tart is the ultimate autumnal pudding. Made in under an hour, we suggest eating it whilst still warm with a negroni in hand for a beautiful contrast in temperature.