Taking the waters in Fellini’s 8½ (notice Marcello, right, with his cigarette—so perfect in a spa and such a nice pairing with the gallons of mineral water he has to drink).
Recipe: The Fizzerino
A friend of mine who wants to whittle down her stomach fat has just switched from vino to vodka with a calorie-free mixer. Wine is beautiful, but it can be fattening when consumed in the quantities I usually favor. An ample glass of wine contains between 120 and 150 calories, depending on the alcohol level. The more alcohol, the more calories. (Isn’t that interesting? I always thought more sugar meant more calories, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.) A vodka and seltzer made with a little less than a shot of booze has 60 to 75 calories, again depending on the proof. That doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but for me and for many of my fellow wine drinkers, calories aren’t even the main issue. The real problem is that wine is an appetite opener par excellence, allowing you to eat much more dinner or lunch than you normally would, just because every bite tastes so much better with a sip of wonderful wine (or even of so-so wine, for that matter).
I generally start drinking a little wine when I begin cooking dinner, and then I continue with it through the meal. This habit has allowed me to polish off almost an entire bottle before getting to the main course. At about 650 calories per bottle, that is definitely not a diet-friendly practice any way you look at it.
Italians don’t often drink hard booze or wine before dinner, except maybe sometimes a glass of white. A light aperitivo is the rule, and then on to the wine, in the dreaded moderation, during dinner. Americans have a problem with moderation. I suppose that’s why many Italians consider us barbarians. As if the Italians weren’t already irritatingly moderate enough, I recently read in the magazine La Cucina Italiana that trendy Italians now feel an acceptable alternative to their aperitivo of Cynar and soda is a glass of very fancy, sparkling mineral water, one just a little bit fancier than would show up on their dinner table. With no alcohol. That would require a high level of discipline for an American, especially in an uncomfortable social situation.
I’ve given this some thought and come up with I believe a good middle ground, an American alternative. I’ve invented the elegant but practical fizzerino, diet drink supreme (well, not invented it, exactly, but I’m proposing that it’s fresh and relevant again). It’s a drink that allows you to act a little like a haughty Italian but, in true American fashion, you get to sneak some booze into it.
Try my fizzerino as a diet aperitivo. That’s a good place to start. It has far fewer calories than a Long Island Iced Tea. If you really want to keep the calories under control, stick with the fizzerino through dinner, unless you’re sure you can trust yourself with the vino. Two fizzerinos is a reasonable number, about 120 to 130 calories, but you’ll want to design dinners around this austere drink. It’s great with oysters and not bad with linguini with white clam sauce, or grilled sardines served over salad, but I have to tell you, it’s absolutely disgusting with a pork ragu, or with grilled pork sausages, turning the usually appealing mineral tastes in the water into rusted metal. It works a little better with beef. It’s not a bad match with a Southern Italian style tomato sauce, especially one spiked with olives, capers, or anchovies .
I suppose everyday San Pellegrino water is not considered fancy enough in Italian circles as an aperitivo, but in this country you take what you can get. Other somewhat chic Italian sparkling waters you might want to try are La Lolla, from the Alps, Sole, Fiuggi, Ferrarelle, and San Benedetto. They all have varying mineral makeups and bubble intensity, providing nuanced differences to your fizzerino. Personally I really like San Pellegrino, with its pronounced mineral taste and medium-fizz sparkle.
What I try to stick to now is one fizzerino as an aperitivo, dragging it out into the beginning of dinner, and then one glass of wine (it would be a sin not to have any wine). When that glass is done—this is the hard part—instead of having more wine, I’ll reach for the bottle of sparkling water (and boy does that fizzy water put a welcome damper on my appetite, allowing me to wind down naturally). It’s hardly as much fun as polishing off an entire bottle of wine with dinner, but my waistline thanks me.
Fill a tall glass with ice (of course, Italians would never use ice, but since this is an Italian-American invention, it’s allowed). Pour in a little less than a full shot of vodka. Fill the glass with the Italian sparkling mineral water of your choice. Drop in a lemon slice. Try to drink it slowly.