Ready for another challenge assignment from ladies of The Inspired Plate? I can’t believe it’s already venturing into the latter part of April….I’m not sure where the heck time went.
Anyway, this month is all about styling and photographing a pasta dish. I looove pasta as most folks do so I was looking forward to this assignment. But what to make???? And what would photograph well?? Since it’s spring and has been consistently in the 80s here in Florida for weeks, the thought of a heavy or rich pasta dish didn’t seem quite appealing, so I developed an easy recipe – Ditalini Caprese – which can be served warm or at room temperature and is light and fresh in taste. And – it’s KID-FRIENDLY which is (unfortunately still) an important feature at our house. There is ALWAYS fresh mozzarella in our fridge – yes, always. I made the mistake of running out once or twice and it was not a good thing according to my 12 year old son. You see, I somehow managed to get him to try it way back when (and he liked it!) and it’s part of the reason that he warmed up to eating salads. So now if it’s left out of a salad, uh-oh. Oh he’ll still eat it, but it’s not quite the same.
Okay, on to the recipe and photos….
- 2 cups dried ditalini pasta or other small shape
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cored, seeds removed, and chopped in a 1/2-inch dice
- 7 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, chopped in a 1/2-inch dice
- 10 fresh basil leaves (stack leaves, roll up like a cigar, then thinly slice across into little “chiffonade” ribbons)
- coarse salt for water and to season pasta
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a hefty pinch of salt, and add the ditalini pasta and stir. Cook according to package instructions, approximately 9-10 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the past cooking water. Set aside.
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for about a minute. (Don’t let it burn) Add the tomatoes and cook until just heated through, about a minute or so. Add the cooked pasta, toss to combine, and add a bit of the reserved cooking water to moisten. Remove from the heat and add the cheese, basil, coarse salt, and freshly ground pepper.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 6-8 servings
It’s really delicious for lunch, a side dish, or a take-along to gathering.
Here is a pullback of the final shot:
My settings on manual were f/4.0, shutter 1/125, and ISO 250. I was in the shade in the front area of my garage, with my diffuser panel handy to diffuse the strong mid-morning sun. In hindsight, I feel the green of the plate clashes with the green of the basil, so another lesson learned. As always, things look different in different types of light!
Do you use a garlic press? I had one years ago and then at some point they didn’t seem to be “cool” anymore. I don’t know what happened to mine – it probably got sold along with all of my *ahem* valued food props when my husband commissioned an estate sale for much of the contents of our NY house, along with the contents of his parent’s house . I still don’t think I’ve quite gotten over that! Although I generally mince my garlic with a knife, I did pick up a new press at some point in time.
As always, our blogs are linked to form a circle. Please continue on to see what pasta dishes the rest of our group styled and shot, starting with Jennifer Olson | San Luis Obispo, CA Photographer. She’s darn good at making food look scrumptious.
If you are new to my blog or recent posts, I joined a group of fellow photographers in early January who were all interested in furthering their food photography and styling skills. January’s challenge was a fruit on a white background, and February was a raw and cooked vegetable presented in diptych form. And this month? A “splash” challenge which is just what it sounds like – dropping something into a type of liquid and capturing the splash.
Let’s just say I’m looking forward to NEXT month’s challenge, which is styling and photographing a pasta dish – definitely much more up my food alley so to speak.
But this was fun – and it was a nice excuse to do something together with my son, who at his age prefers Xbox Live with his buddies than anything else. He gets a kick out of things like this that have an element of potential failure or a complete mess – those things seem to humor him. Hmm.
We chose strawberries and water. He was the dropper-into-the-glass and I was the photographer. No flash, no tripod – just a high shutter speed and seemingly steady hand with my much lighter 50 1.4 lens on instead of my 24-70 heavy guy (but I should have used a tripod anyway).
Settings were 1/8000 shutter speed, aperture f/2.8, and ISO 320 using my 50 1.4 Canon lens. The high shutter speed will “freeze” the motion whereas a lower shutter speed will create blur.
And sorry for my crooked table. As you can see, the horizon is relatively straight. Unfortunately, my terrain off of my lanai is not. I’m used to it. It’s not easy to walk on either.
Fun to have a couple of outtakes – in the first one below I was way ahead of the drop and captured the strawberry during its descent; in the second, the strawberry actually dropped right onto the side of the glass rim, spearing it!!! Needless to say, my son found that accidental drop completely hilarious. We broke out laughing so hard. That’s not an easy feat!
Overall, we had to refill the glass several times, dry off the table in between shots, and pick up quite a few strawberries scattered throughout the grass for all the totally missed shots. But it was a fun way to spend an hour with my son.
Please stayed tuned for next month’s challenge we would love it if you continued on through our blog circle to see how the ladies in The Inspired Plate (yes, we have a new name!) fared with this month’s challenge. I’ve had a peek at a few and they’re great!! Up next is Carey Pace, Kingsport TN Lifestyle Photographer – she is so awesome and I LOVE her work.
If you are new to my blog, I joined a group of awesome photographers last month to both challenge ourselves and to gain valuable experience in the area of food photography and styling. It’s a whole heck of a lot different than photographing people as I think most of us can attest to! Our assignment for February is to style and photograph a vegetable (or two or more) in its or their raw as well as cooked states and then to present them on our blogs in a diptych (two side-by-side photos).
In case you missed our January assignment, you can find it HERE.
So…..let’s just say the last four weeks went by FAST in preparation for February’s challenge. I studied a few side-by-side presentations on the blogs of esteemed pros in the food photography and styling fields, and visited our local farmer’s market three times to hunt and procure produce and to ultimately initiate some type of plan for this challenge. I wanted to choose an unusual vegetable – so I was thrilled to find little garden boxes of heads and florets of Romanesco, or Romanesco broccoli as it’s also referred to, a week ago Saturday at the market. I purchased a good amount but also figured that it would be something I could also find at this Saturday’s market in case my photos were blah or my recipe flopped.
Romanesco broccoli is a variant form of cauliflower and it resembles cauliflower in many ways – but it’s got a wild lime-green color and has these weird, spiraled cones jutting out of it. It’s actually more creamy and nutty than either broccoli or cauliflower, and can be used in place of either. Just happens to look like an alien vegetable……
Fast-forward to yesterday. I had already taken the veggie raw state photos last week, but still needed to get my cooked version done which meant developing a recipe. I settled upon creating a soup topped with a basil-walnut pesto. The pressure mounted because I didn’t have any wiggle room to screw this up – because not a head of Romanesco broccoli could be found at the market yesterday morning. Did it like suddenly go out of season within a week? Did the farmers sell their entire crop of this vegetable? I was starting to feel pretty stressed.
So I got the job done, leaving the kitchen in a complete state of disaster with blenders and food processors littering the counters, spilled soup crusting the stovetop, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano covering the counter like a soft blanket of snow. However, the soup tasted really delicious. Whew. Okay, got over the recipe hurdle and documented it on paper as fast as I could write.
The next panic to set in was the styling and photography. What was a cloudy day suddenly became a brilliantly sunny late afternoon sky which completely thwarted where I was going to shoot. After I got that rectified, it was on to finish collecting items for styling. I had a nice blue bowl for the soup. A cloth napkin, bread, spoon, and a canning jar stuffed with fresh basil rounded out the rest of the table (er, floor). I wanted to spoon some pesto in a small dish but couldn’t find one that worked. Ditto for the grated cheese.
Um, maybe it should have occurred to me that the soup was going to be the color of split-pea soup? Probably the least most flattering color to photography besides brown foods??! And great – the color of the soup actually was a close match for the color of the INSIDE of my bowl. Crap, crap, crap. Things were not going too well at this point.
This was definitely harder than a photo session on the beach will a family of 15 and four of them under the age of five.
Well, I worked with what I had, and clicked away. Learn, learn, learn. Document the missteps and move forward. And never forgetting for a moment that I’m so glad to be a part of this very amazing group of photographers.
The diptych reveal (and recipe will follow):
Our group’s blogs are linked to form a blog circle – so please continue on and see what Kathryn Clark has for this challenge! I can’t wait to see her take on this!
And lastly, are you on Pinterest? Our group has a board there called Haute Dishes and you are welcome to “like” us or follow the board. Great dishes, great recipes, and great styling from all around blog-land. Our challenges are featured there, too. We’d love to have you!
Romanesco Pesto Soup
Ingredients for soup:
- 1 head of garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 sweet onion (Florida or Vidalia)
- 1 medium to large Yukon Gold potato
- 1 medium head Romanesco broccoli (can substitute broccoli or cauliflower), stem sliced off and broken into florets
- 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind (optional)*
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- touch of finely grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup of heavy cream
- kosher salt and coarse ground pepper
- grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to sprinkle over soup
Ingredients for the Basil-Walnut Pesto:
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces plus two tablespoons for garnish
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 cups basil leaves, tightly packed
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or Parmesan cheese of your choice)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (scant squeeze from a half of a lemon)
- salt (kosher or sea) and coarse ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. To make the Roasted Garlic, cut off the top of the garlic to expose the bulbs. Place on a small sheet of foil, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Bring the sides of the foil up around the garlic to form a little package. Set on a small baking sheet and place in the oven for 50 minutes. Leave the oven on when garlic is done at 400 degrees F. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the pulp from the garlic cloves and set aside. (Roasted Garlic can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.)
- While the garlic is cooking, prep vegetables. Chop the potato and onion into medium dice and chop the romanesco florets into smaller pieces.
- Heat the oil in a medium Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and a small pinch of salt and let cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped potato, romanesco broccoli, and the roasted garlic pulp. Add the chicken broth, bay leaf, and parmesan cheese rind (if using) and bring up to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for about 20 minutes, partially covered.
- Make the Basil-Walnut Pesto: In a food processor, pulse the the 1/2 cup of walnuts and the garlic a few times; then add the basil and cheese and pulse. With the motor on, add the extra-virgin olive oil in a slow stream until incorporated. Add the salt and lemon juice and pulse one or two more times. (If not using right away – cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
- Remove cheese rind and bay leaf from the soup. Blend in batches in a blender and return to the pot. Add lemon juice, heavy cream, and season with salt, pepper, and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg. Stir well and ladle into soup bowls and garnish with a dollop of Basil-Walnut Pesto and toasted walnuts.
I was up pretty early Saturday morning since I had to drop my son off at his school at 6:30 am for departure with his Latin Club to the regional forum in Tampa, so after a stop at Starbucks, I decided to head to the farmer’s market in downtown Sarasota. I had such a nice time just wandering around and taking pictures but all the while eyeing the vast array of gorgeous looking produce and wondering what I was going to do for this month’s food photography and styling challenge which calls for a diptych of a raw and a cooked vegetable presentation. There are a few fairly large vendors that carry just about everything from tomatoes to squash, but then I came upon a smaller, organic vendor that appeared to have some interesting produce. Immediately catching my eye (and triggering my impulse shopping button) was a display of heirloom radishes which practically just call out to have their picture taken! In a matter of moments, I bought both the French Breakfast and the Watermelon varieties but have no idea what I’m going to do with them, lol. I also picked up a bunch of Florida sweet onions – just because they’re different and also make for a nice presentation in their raw state. And because I like them.
Are the French Breakfast radishes gorgeous or what?
I’m thinking about trying to work on a presentation with the Florida sweet onions today so that I can enjoy them in an avocado sandwich……
There used to be a vendor that had an amazing amount of both fresh and dried herbs and spices but after two circles around the market, I couldn’t find them. But – I did finally stumble upon a smaller vendor and picked up a small package of whole nutmeg as well as aged balsamic salt.
Next week I’m picking up shrimp from this vendor…
And I ended my market adventure with a slice of freshly cut watermelon.