Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The New Ambrosia

The food world seems to have gotten incredibly meta lately. Don’t worry, I had to have that term defined for me, too. Meta basically means above and beyond, an additional level superimposed on whatever is normally there. I’ll use an illustration. When you read a novel where the protagonist (or any character, really) is aware that his or her story is being recorded in book form and speaks directly to the reader. When characters in a film look directly at the camera and address whoever may be watching. When one is aware of the absurdity of a situation one is participating in and goes so far as to address that absurdity and speak to it without interfering with it.

When Bon Appetit talks smugly about how pretentious foodies are even though their principal audience is composed almost entirely of foodies. So, I guess the new thing is to be really cool and hip while acknowledging that being really cool and hip is uncool. It’s a complicated world.

I usually try to stay on Earth with the rest of us, but I’ve been going a little meta lately as well. It might be the weather, which has been particularly frightening this year. It might be politics, which seem to be getting more and more asinine as time goes on (That’s my budget cut! No! It’s mine!). It could also be all the pasta recipes we’ve been testing lately. Carbs can do funny things to you. But I’ve gone a little meta on kitschy recipes.

I love the kitsch. I mean, in theory, what’s not to love about Jell-O salad and crazy recipes using ground beef? But in reality, Jell-O really stopped being tasty to me after the age of 10, and now I cast a scornful eye upon the substance. No, it’s much more fun to just read the recipes and chuckle softly to oneself rather than attempt or try to 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. Ultimately, every recipe has a heart of gold, and the job of the recipe developer is to find it. There are no bad recipes, just misguided ones. So, I came up with my own ambrosia. I fully acknowledge the kitsch value in the recipe, and I’m going to do it anyway, but to my own tastes. It’s very grown-up and can be served at all sorts of occasions—brunch, a nice dinner, a picnic, a potluck…it has that kind of classiness to it. The sort where it manages to look and taste classy without being fussy. You don’t need a whole afternoon to make it, you don’t need to know any crazy techniques, and you don’t have to serve it with anything although you could if you wanted to. It’s an easy-going, light recipe that isn’t light on flavor. I suspect I’ll be making this all summer long.

I can imagine substituting the tangerines with blood oranges, which are my favorite citrus fruit, but really any orange-esque fruit would work here. I can also see the logic in using almonds or cashews as a topping instead of pistachios. If you feel like it, this goes well with very lightly sweetened whipped cream and amaretti or biscotti cookies.

The New Ambrosia

Serves 8

Peel and segment, removing the white pith:

8 tangerines or clementines

Combine the fruit in a medium bowl with:

¼ cup honey

½ cup dry white wine or vermouth

¼ cup unsweetened flaked coconut

¼ cup chopped dried dates

¼ teaspoon orange flower water

Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to meld. Serve with:

Chopped pistachios

1 comment:

tracingterroir said...

Good ole Jello-O. I used to LOVE the Bill Cosby commercials with the quivering neon stars and hearts. For some reason, my mom would never let us cut our Jello-O into fun shapes, and so it also reminds me of the Jello-O dish we used; only for Jello-O and nothing else, for some reason.

And gelled desserts are really big in pockets along the west side of the country - it's the Mormons really. Part of their food culture includes both sweet AND savory (um, barf?) jell-o dishes.

Kudos on the ambrosia post, Megan! :)