June 25, 2012

Pasta Salad With Peas, Paneer, Baby Spinach & Pistachios, With A Lemony-Sweet Garlicky Basil Dressing – A Recipe & Some Photography!

t’s been a couple of months since I joined Simone in her monthly Donna Hay Photography Challenge. Not only did I have the time this month, the recipe for the challenge is something I like – a Pasta Salad. I don't really like salads, especially the raw vegetable kind, but if there's pasta in it, then I cannot resist it. I did put my own spin on Donna Hay’s Goat’s Cheese, Lemon and Pea Pasta mainly because I couldn’t find some of the ingredients and once I’d started adapting the recipe it was almost as if I couldn’t stop!
But more of that later and I’ll start by concentrating on the photography part of the challenge first. The photograph of the Goat’s Cheese, Lemon and Pea Pasta was from the February 2011 (Issue 55) Donna Hay magazine, photographed by William Meppem and styled by David Morgan.

Image courtesy of Simone (Jungle Frog Cooking)

The photograph is typically simply styled with the focus on the freshness of the dish, and this time the colour in the photograph comes from the food with the pan and the background all white.  I quite like the styling in the photograph which is minimalistic and draws the eye to the food straight away.  There were a couple of things about the photograph that I didn't quite find appealing, though.

The first was the bluish cast, almost like an incorrect White Balance setting. This could have been an intentional use of creative/ artistic license perhaps to suggest the coolness of the pasta salad on a warm summer day. The other was my feeling that the composition was too tight, with both sides of the pan being cropped. My personal preference would have been to see one complete edge of the pan (right side).       
The photograph has very little shadows and the light seems to be coming from the upper right side (the right side is blown out whereas details are visible on the lower left side) . This is not how I usually shoot my food, as I like shadows in my photographs, so this would be a challenge.
One option would have been to shoot perhaps outdoors with natural light. I’m not sure how well that would have worked, and I didn’t have a chance to find out since the monsoons are here and its raining most of the time.
My other option was to shoot indoors and use white boards to reflect light such that there was very little shadow, which is what I did.    

(My preferred version of the challenge photograph)

Styling-wise, I don’t have white coloured pans, and my shallow pan is on the larger side. So I used a white bowl instead. Heavy rains and overcast skies outside meant, that I had to shoot with my camera on a tripod. Again, I wasn’t really happy with my results. The main problem was that I was trying to emulate a style I’m comfortable with, and there wasn’t enough natural light since it was a day of incessant rains!
Trying to keep to the original style scheme, I used my 100mm prime lens as that gives a really nice shallow depth of field at the back of the salad/ pan. This also meant that the sides of my bowl got cropped out of my composition, and I couldn’t get as much space at the top as I wanted.
Maybe I should have used another lens, but given that my natural light was fading, I decided to continue with this lens. I adjusted the White Balance (advantage of shooting RAW) and brought the temperature down to 3500K to get that bluish cast. I must say I didn’t like this photograph very much.

(My first and less preferred version of the original with a slight bluish cast)

So I took another shot with only one side cropped out, a slightly different angle and without the bluish colour cast while still trying to keep to that simple and all white styling.  I felt this was a better composition, but that’s a personal preference. This one was shot at aperture - f/ 2.8 (the lowest on my lens),  shutterspeed – 1.3s and ISO 100.
And how would I have shot it if I had to do it all from scratch? I’m not too sure because after almost an hour of trying to be inspired by the original photograph, I was a bit tired and fed up with the fluctuating natural light scenario outside my window, and my creativity had taken a walk. So I kept the white but changed things around a bit. I shot this photograph at aperture f/ 4.0, shutterspeed – 0.6s and ISO 100.

As for the recipe, I changed things here quite a bit partly because I couldn’t find the ingredients and mostly by design. I couldn't find goat's cheese/ Feta or rocket leaves/ Arugula so I substituted paneer for goat’s cheese, fresh baby Malabar spinach (from my neighbour’s garden) for the rocket/ arugula, added some toasted pistachios to the mix.

Malabar spinach (Basella Rubra) is this gorgeous looking spinach (actually its not a true spinach but a very, very distant relative) with beautiful heart shaped deep green leaves growing on ruby red vines. My neighbour has it growing all over the fence of her back garden and is more than generous with it.

Rather than add everything to the Pasta Salad, I made a tangy and sweet, garlic flavoured dressing with fresh basil from my pots, to add to my salad just before serving.  This salad was a much needed and refreshing lunch after some tiring photography! Let’s just say that I was way happier with the Pasta Salad than I was with my photography.

Pasta Salad With Peas, Paneer, Baby Spinach & Pistachios,
With A Lemony-Sweet Garlicky Basil Dressing
(Partly adapted from Donna Hay's Goat’s Cheese, Lemon & Pea Pasta)


350 to 400gm penne
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
200 gm paneer, crumbled
A small handful of baby spinach
1/4 cup toasted pistachios
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Lemony-Sweet Garlicky Basil Dressing

1 garlic clove, crushed 

2 tbsp lemon juice (adjust to taste)
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp honey
3 to 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tbsp shredded basil
Salt to taste


Cook the pasta in a saucepan of salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes, adding the peas in at the last minute, or until al dente. Drain and return to the pan. Crumble paneer into largish pieces.
Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients. Just before serving add the dressing, the crumbled paneer, the baby spinach and the pistachios to the pasta and peas and toss well to coat. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Serve as a side to the main meal. This recipe serves 4.