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.