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Bruschetta With Basil Pesto, Crumbled Paneer And Tomato + An Exercise In Photography!

Posted Feb 29 2012 12:00am

ou might have seen my post last month on Cauliflower Soup which was not just about food but also an exercise in photography.  As part of the Donna Hay monthly food photography and styling exercise , this time Simone picked a recipe for Bruschetta With Arugula Pesto from Donna Hay’s book “”.
Simone said she thought she would pick an easy one this month but this photograph presented its own problems for me. I don’t know that it was easy for me because it was all about improvisation starting with substituting for unavailable ingredients like arugula and bocconchini/ fresh mozzarella to turning the recipe vegetarian. Then it was about looking for halfway reasonably close-to-the original sort of props.

[Photograph details : Shot handheld with a Canon 55-250mm f/4-5.6  (focal length 65mm) at Aperture -f/ 4.5, shutterspeed – 1/ 20s and ISO – 640. Used software to crop a bit, increase brightness and a bit of contrast.]
From what I could make out, the original photograph was taken in natural light coming from the upper right side. The Bruschetta is on a plate on a table with a bottle and glass holding some liquid (water, I think) with a chair right at the back. There began my first problem. Our dining room opens out into a lovely balcony but the direct sunlight never hits it. While this creates a nice cool ambience for dining, it is not the best thing for natural light photography which is why I rarely ever use the dining table for photography. This time, the dining table it had to be!

Con Poulos’s photograph from the Season’s cookbook (Courtesy: Simone of Junglefrog Cooking) The next thing was finding somewhat similar sized props. Well I did the best I could. Looking at the original photograph, I found the knife on the plate a bit distracting. Somehow my eyes keep going there rather than just to the Bruschetta which should be the “hero” of the photograph. Why would you need a knife there anyways?
I also didn’t like the way the napkin was folded (looks lumpy, sort of), and found it very difficult to balance my plate after I had folded my napkin like that. I had to put some green pea pods (invisible) underneath to balance the plate!

Once I had the composition more or less as close as I could to the original, the sun suddenly disappeared behind the clouds, so all I could do was push the ISO up a bit to get some light in. Getting the bottle and glass to blur to the extent with the lenses I have was next to impossible.

I initially tried using a 100mm lens and then the 50mm/ f1.8 lens but then my composition wasn’t working right. I finally decided to use my 55-250mm lens (f/4-5.6) and got my composition right but it meant I couldn’t go below aperture f/4.0 which limited the “blur” I could achieve in the background.

I wasn’t much happier with the result this month than the previous time. I feel that both the bottle and the glass seem to be vying for attention with the Bruschetta. This could have been avoided if I had a smaller glass and a slimmer bottle, or I had been able to blur the background with a shallower DoF which I couldn’t manage somehow.
I think by cropping the bottle a bit (the photograph on the right below), I managed to make it a bit inconspicuous. On the whole, I think the main problem with my photograph is that my plate, the size of bread on it and the glass and bottle were not very proportional, size-wise and that comes through very clearly.

I wanted to try a slightly different arrangement while trying to keep the photograph simple, without adding too much to it. And I got rid of that knife that was bothering me, the napkin from under the plate and the saucer under the glass. I liked this version better of both my photographs but I still see a lot of scope for improvement, especially with the lighting. I don’t particularly think the colour of our dining table lends itself to the photograph! And now on to the recipe.
Bruschetta is an Italian dish and an antipasto (or appetizer) that is usually served as the first course. The name comes from “bruscare” meaning “to roast over coals” and traditionally Bruschetta was made by toasting sliced country bread, rubbing it with garlic, then drizzling it with olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Today the Bruschetta has evolved and is usually topped with a variety of ingredients ranging from simple and fresh vegetables or meats to the unusual like grilled or roasted vegetables. A Pesto is a green herb sauce from northern Italy that is usually eaten with pasta. Traditionally it is made by crushing together basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, and then blending in Parmesan cheese and oil to a thick and coarse paste. In fact, the name “Pesto” comes from the word pestâ/ pestare, which means to pound or crush. Pesto can also be made using tomatoes or other greens, but for me Pesto means basil leaves. If you cannot find pine nuts you can use walnuts. Pesto can also be made with almonds or even cashewnuts but the taste will differ somewhat. Toasting the nuts before using in the Pesto will bring out the flavour of the sauce. Below is my adaptation of the original recipe from the .
I chose to use garlic bread instead of rubbing the bread with garlic before toasting it. I don't get arugula so I used only basil leaves, and crumbled paneer instead of boconcchini/ fresh mozarella . You can also use Feta cheese. I had run out of pine nuts so I used wlanuts instead.

Bruschetta With Basil Pesto, Crumbled Paneer And Tomato (Adapted from )

For The Bruschetta: 8 slices garlic bread, toasted extra virgin olive oil (for sprinkling) 200gm crumbled paneer (Indian milk cheese) 3 to 4 medium sized tomatoes, sliced thin 1 medium onion, sliced thin  Salt and crushed black pepper to taste
For The Basil Pesto: 1 handful basil 1/4 cup walnuts (or pine nuts), toasted 4 tsp grated Parmesan cheese 1/4 garlic clove 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil A pinch of salt
Method: To make the basil pesto, put the basil leaves, walnuts/ pine nuts, parmesan and garlic into a food processor and puree roughly. While the motor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a drizzle and let the pesto grind into a thick, slightly coarse paste. Season lightly with salt to taste. To assemble the Bruschetta,  spread some pesto on the toasted garlic bread slices. Top with crumbled paneer, slices of tomato and onion. Lightly drizzle with some olive oil and finish off with salt and crushed pepper. Serve immediately. This makes 2 portions of Bruschetta each for 4 people.

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