Newspaper Article from The Windsor Star Featuring Cotta Catering

Think of it as happy hour, but for people who love to eat just as much, if not more, than they like to drink.

The Italian “aperitivo” — the after work/before dinner drink-and-snacks tradition that’s especially popular in bars in northern Italy — has found its way to Windsor-Essex but with a dinnertime twist.

Chef Antonia Maceroni recently launched a hybrid aperitif and dinner known as “apericena” (a mash-up of “aperitivo” and “cena,” meaning dinner) to the delight of local foodies who love the combination of tapas-style food with light drinks and lots of socializing.

“People like to taste something and less of it,” said Maceroni, a former chef at La Zingara who now caters a few of these dinners per month through her company, Cotta Catering.

At its core, apericena is a dinner consisting only of appetizers — small portions that are easy to handle with one hand or at most a fork or spoon. Think foods like small skewers of meat, stuffed mushrooms, bruschetta, mini bowls of pasta or fresh figs wrapped in prosciutto.

Apericena is an opportunity to try a lot of different, and perhaps more original, foods. After all, foodies really enjoy quality over quantity, she said.

And this kind of dinner concept makes for a more relaxed atmosphere, Maceroni said, since you’re not parked at the dining room table waiting for each course to come out. In fact, an appetizer-only dinner lends itself especially well to outdoor entertaining, she said, since you don’t need a dining room table and full sets of plates and cutlery.

Depending on the size of the crowd you want to host, Maceroni can even arrange a bartender for you to whip up drinks. Classic apertivo cocktails include the Aperol spritz, made with Aperol and prosecco, but her clients serve anything from wine to beer to stronger stuff that complements their menu, she said.

Maceroni doesn’t limit herself to Italian aperitivo foods. You’ll find anything from tacos to Greek-style flaming cheese to samosas and bite-sized fish and chips.

The average apericena party is about 16 people, Maceroni said, although she’s catered for much bigger groups including a wedding. (How’s that for a change from the usual sit-down wedding dinner?) The price per person for an apericena party starts around $20 but can go anywhere from there, depending on how many different appetizers the host wants to serve and their complexity.

And for a chef, an apericena is much more fun to cook up than a regular sit-down affair, she said. It’s more creative and fun developing — and preparing — a dozen or more bite-sized foods.

“It’s more particular,” she said.