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Ambrosia, Updated

One of the really charming things about the Joy of Cooking is the juxtaposition of modern and retro recipes in its pages. Having Quick Chicken Rice Casserole in close proximity to Artichoke Frittata is a subtle reminder of our not so distant culinary past. However, one of the many reasons we continue to revise and update the book is that, whereas you may have needed a dozen or more aspic recipes in the 1940s, you most certainly do not need that many today.

In truth, we walk a very fine line. When it comes to heritage recipes, we hesitate to leave them by the wayside, as they hold significant cultural and familial value in some cases (And if we were to get rid of them entirely, whatever would we use our gelatin moulds for, I ask you?!). However, we can't but acknowledge the changing times, and there comes a point when adding a blurb about balsamic vinegar is more important than the tenth stuffed tomato recipe.

I love kitsch. I mean, in theory, what’s not to love about Jell-O salad and odd recipes using ground beef? But in reality, Jell-O really stopped being tasty to me after the age of 10. No, it’s much more fun to just read the recipes and chuckle softly to oneself rather than try to understand or explain them.

But I have a soft spot for ambrosia. It’s one of those dishes that my great-grandmother made many times, and that I always thought had a heart of gold. That heart was simply hidden behind syrupy canned fruit and mini marshmallows. And in order for Ambrosia to live up to its name, this recipe desperately needed some reworking.

This modern Ambrosia is thoroughly grown-up, much tastier, and healthier to boot. It can be served at all sorts of occasions—brunch, a nice dinner, a picnic, or a potluck. It looks and tastes sophisticated without being fussy and is an easygoing, light recipe that isn’t light on flavor. I suspect I’ll be making this frequently throughout the citrus season.

I've used a combination of juicy Valencia oranges and tart-sweet blood oranges here, but you can use all oranges if you like, or even throw in some grapefruit segments. I can also see using toasted almonds or cashews instead of pistachios. If you feel like it, this goes well with very lightly sweetened whipped cream or mascarpone, and amaretti or biscotti cookies.

Other articles you might enjoy: Baked Stuffed Peaches, Pistachio Raspberry Cakes, Strawberries With Vanilla Bourbon Zabaglione

Modern Ambrosia
Serves 4

Supreme over a bowl to catch the juice:
          4 oranges, blood oranges, or a combination of the two
Combine the fruit and its juice in a medium bowl with:
          (1 tablespoon honey)
            1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
            5 dried dates, chopped
            A few drops orange flower water
Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to meld. Serve with:
          Chopped pistachios
           1/3 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut, toasted*

*To toast coconut, preheat the oven to 325˚F. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast for about 5 minutes. Be careful when toasting coconut as it transforms from toasty to charred very quickly. You may also toast coconut in a toaster oven, but be especially vigilant.

To toast coconut in the microwave, spread in a thin layer in a microwave-safe dish or pie pan. Microwave on high power in 30-second bursts, stirring after each 30 seconds, until toasted.

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Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes:
     One medium eggplant (about 3/4 to 1 pound)
On a baking sheet, toss the cubed eggplant with: