It’s been a while since I’ve put a post on here, I know. There have been several things that all happened in a concentrated period recently that led to me feeling not quite at the top of my game. Up until now, the thought of getting it together to make myself a lunch that was anywhere near photograph-worthy, let alone actually photograph it and write about it, seemed a daunting task. But now I’m feeling a bit more myself, I decided to intentionally carve out some time to make a blog post.
That time came today, a rainy Saturday, where I suddenly found myself with little on the agenda other than some household chores. The idea for lunch came in part from a recipe in Nigel Slater’s most recent cookbook (Kitchen Diaries III), a book so evocative in its descriptions that it sets me off on wild cooking fantasies. I adapted a recipe for grilled lamb steaks with cannellini bean and spinach puree, as I had a hankering for griddled chicken.
I do a lot of food photography for work, but doing photography that is just for me always feels like exercising a different muscle. There’s a lot more freedom involved in taking photographs that don’t have a specific brief, and it’s completely up to me the direction in which they take. I always feel I’m more able to take risks and experiment with composition and angles, and the outcome usually surprises me. I found a day spend gently pottering in the kitchen, then arranging bits of material, deciding on which plate to use (a lengthy process) and photographing the dish, bought a sense of much needed restoration.
Food is my main motivator for travel. That, and taking photos: of the scenery as well as the food. The thing that excited me most about my trip to South-East Asia and Australia last year was the different tastes that awaited me in the five countries. From paad thai on the streets of Bangkok via smoked duck in Singapore to kangaroo in Adelaide, South Australia, it was a pretty epic range of tastes. One of my favourite destinations in terms of food has to be Italy. Italian food is so much more than just pizza and pasta – although the pizza and pasta are, usually, excellent.
I first had farro in Florence, in a tiny café nestled somewhere in the city’s ochre-coloured, labyrinthine streets. We took refuge from the baking hot sun in the middle of the day, and had several platefuls of a very memorable salad: farro with cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. When I first tried it, I thought the mysterious grain was simply pearl barley, but that for some reason it tasted so much better than the dowdy English variety. Farro is in fact Italian pearled spelt, very similar to pearl barley but with a nuttier taste which makes it altogether more likeable. It’s great cold, in refreshing salads, or warm, with unctuous layers of tomato sauce poured over it.
It seems I’m not the only one who is a fan of farro: there was an Ottolenghi recipe in Waitrose Magazine this month for grilled lettuce with farro and lemon. Here, in keeping with Italian simplicity, I decided to combine my new favourite grain with some chicken baked with lemon, and some gently fried courgettes. A spray of roughly chopped parsley and an extra squeeze of lemon finished it off. This dish could work as well warm as cold – more suitable for lunch cold and dinner hot, maybe. But for the purposes of needing good midday light for the photos, I had it warm for lunch, rendering that previous claim somewhat redundant.
As the weather has been so amazingly hot recently (30 degrees..in England!) I find all I really want to eat is salad. What I love about salads is that you can put virtually any random ingredients together, and it usually works. Salads are usually considered to be a healthy option, regardless of what they contain. The rationale seems to be that if you put something in the vague vicinity of a lettuce leaf, it automatically becomes healthy. Eating things as a ‘salad’ seems to purge them of any sin.
In this very hearty, and therefore not exactly healthy, salad I went for vaguely Moroccan flavours: cumin spiced chicken, garlicky aubergines and a dressing of yoghurt mixed with harissa, which is a Moroccan chilli paste.
Incidentally, as the subtitle for this blog is ‘food and photography’, I feel like it’s high time I mentioned photography in a post. So here goes. This was my first attempt at shooting a recipe outside, in order to convey the sunny, salad-appropriate weather. Initially I thought it would be a doddle, as there is so much light around. However, the light is harder to control, as its not just coming from one direction. This results in everything seeming to cast a shadow. Some careful bouncing of the light with a reflector seemed to do the trick.