Asparagus, Chards, Agretti, Broad Beans and Mint Ratatouille on Toast
Although still spring, it seems like summer already. Considering how fast the temperature changed, I want to share a couple more spring recipes before we switch entirely to nightshades, tomatoes and raw food! And... in addition to the recipe, I'd like to share some personal thoughts on photography in general and food photography in particular.
But first things first: the recipe is a simple rustic sandwich -perfect for vegetarians- with a mix of greens such as asparagus, chards, agretti, broad beans, black olives, mint and a lemon and oil dressing. Easy to make, healthy and flavourful. I used rye bread (in Venice, my favourite places for specialty breads are Colussi il Fornaio and NaturaSi in Rialto) and bought the greens at the fruit and veg stall in San Lio. Lately, in fact, I've been doing most of my shopping in the afternoon, as -stupidly- I filled myself with things to do and even picked up an extra job for the summer, so... I'm always short of time and in the evening I tend to collapse early on the couch...
Anyway, maybe that stall is a little pricier than other stalls at the central Rialto market, but I have to say that the quality of the ingredients is excellent and when it comes to food, I'd rather spend a little more but be sure it comes from Italy and was produced sustainably. Besides, the boys are always very helpful and give me excellent advice! Last but not least, this week is also the 'Zero Waste' week, so I have committed to not buying anything that is wrapped in plastic (the absurdity of organic veg in supermarkets is that... it always comes in a package. Ironic, ah?). Not that plastic is bad in itself, in fact... (please don't hate me) vegetables preserve better inside a holed plastic bag in the fridge, as it holds humidity. But with the boys I can recycle, bring my own bag, and so on... whereas at the supermarket it's just terrible (besides, I don't want to buy Spanish strawberries, Mexican avocado or Egyptian artichokes when we have excellent products in our near surroundings).
The offer at the supermarket, anyway, is also quite limited, as they seem to have more or less the same things throughout the year and I've started seeing strawberries in February (ridiculous!). Then, agretti, a special Mediterranean type of opposite-leaved saltwort, are impossible to find at supermarkets and I definitely don't want to renounce to this special delicacy, so tasty and unique! As for asparagus, I bought the cheaper and thinner ones we normally use to make risotto and some incredibly sweet baby chards. Mint and lemons I already had at home, while the broad beans came from an organic store (not fresh, but in a glass jar). All super colourful food to add a little bit of joy to our table!
Because I tend to photograph everything we eat, I considered colour combination too, but... as my husband says, taste always comes first. A recipe has to be tasty more than pretty and one thing I am noticing about food photography is that it mainly revolves around highly fat and sugery foods. I follow some plant-based photographers to study how they work, but in the end -maybe because I'm Italian and into savoury foods- it seems that ingredients are chosen for their colours rather than for their taste and that often the same recipe features ingredients from different seasons (like aubergines, a summer nightshade, with pomegranate, which is a November fruit...) ... and this is really against my principles.
Speaking about photography, in the last months I have stuck to one precise style for my blog (the one that most represents me and the way I see life...) and used my other photographs for stock agencies. Honestly I don't feel I could teach photography to anyone, rather I can share some little 'secrets' of mine. The first thing is that I am addicted to my tripod. For dark food photography, I mainly use natural side light, a reflector and close the shutter to f22. I use 100 or 200 ISO, therefore having a tripod is a must, as the exposure time is relatively long and if I shot free hands the images would inevitably be blurry. More difficult when it comes to action shots, because the minimum time really should be 1/125 ... so either I increase he ISO to 400/600 (something I am never happy to do) or ... choose specific actions. Slicing veg or pouring drinks are okay even with lower ISO and longer exposures, but if you want to sprinkle breadcrumbs, parmesan or add icing sugar/cocoa powder to a cake... there is no way you can achieve that type of photo with a long exposure time. You can always consider using artificial light and fixing the image in Lightroom later on. Personally, I have the fortune I can work mostly with natural light... but it's not always like that, so I suggest to follow a super talented Australian blogger and photographer called Joanie Simon. Her blog is called the Bite Shot and is entirely dedicated to photography education, plus her YouTube channel is amazing (thank you so much Joanie, you are the best!!!).
I believe one can really learn a lot from her. As for myself, I am a self-taught photographer and I learned (and am still learning) through experience. A dear friend who is a professional photographer for important luxury brands has helped me a lot and the greatest lesson for which I will always feel grateful is to try get the best image when shooting. I'm not saying to forget post-production, but post-production is an extra job and requires time, so... if photography is your primary source of income you must charge for your time. I use Lightroom and/or Photoshop only to straighten pictures (I seem to have a problem in seeing things straight... despite using a grid...) and adjust the lighting a little, but really... I'm not a post-production magician and would love to learn more.
With regard to the gear, many wonder if having a good camera makes a difference. Well, yes. It makes a huge difference... unfortunately I don't have a super camera, I am currently using a Canon Eos M50, which is generally considered an entry level camera. Still, I find Canon Eos cameras, in general, great for food photography and colour. Besides, I think we should all try to make the most of what we have, push ourselves to the limits and then make investments! More important than a super expensive gear is a sensitive eye and having a story to tell! Anyway, going back to technicalities, I have the basic light stands, booms and lights (an affordable yet great kit at this link), I love wandering around second hand markets, ceramic shops and for my backdrops I use three main suppliers: Kate Home backdrops, FoodPropsLover and Capture by Lucy. [please consider than on my website you only see my personal style, but I also take different and brighter pictures for agencies which are totally different].
As for the setting, I believe each of us has his/her own personal way of seeing things. My references are mainly in the fine art and still life world and a book that I found incredibly interesting and would recommend to anyone is 'Food in Painting' by Kenneth Bendiner. It was enlightening and eye-opening and it has given me lots of inspiration. Of course, commercial and product photography is another different story and in that case have a look at the Food Photography and Lighting by Teri Campbell, as it goes through every aspect in a very practical and clear manner.
With this said... I am curious about your approach to food photography too and would love if you shared some tips/opinions. For me it is very important for the scene to look as natural, homey and warm as possible, what about you? Or -if you are just an image consumer- what type of food pictures do you prefer and why?
let me know and let me know if you liked the recipe too ...
Have a great weekend and talk to you soon!
RATATOUILLE WITH ASPARAGUS, CHARDS, AGRETTI, BROAD BEANS AND MINT
4 slices of rye bread
200 gr green asparagus
200 gr baby chards
200 gr agretti
100 gr canned broad beans
6/7 black olives
2 crushed cloves of garlic
1 organic lemon
8 mint leaves to garnish
1. Wash all the vegetable well under fresh water. Dry, chop thinly and keep aside.
2. Rinse the broad beans under fresh water to remove any extra salt, then chop grossly with the olives and keep aside.
3. Heat a pan, add a little bit of olive oil, the crushed cloves of garlic, the black olives and when the oil starts popping, the rest of the vegetables.
4. Cook for about one minute, sprinkle some water with the tips of your fingers and lower the heat. Cook for another 7/8 minutes.
5. In the meantime, toast the slices of bread.
6. When the veg is ready, let cool a little and then in a bowl dress with some olive oil, half squeezed lemon juice, some grated lemon zests (optional) and mint leaves. If you wish add a pinch of salt and pepper.
7. Finally, top the slices of toast and serve.