I really enjoy participating in the monthly blogging event called Our Growing Edge. I feel it gives me permission to fail. Most times when I am approached with a project or idea, expectations are of success on the first try. Hazard of the trade I suppose. I even find that I hold myself to that standard at times. Realistic or not, I always want perfection the first time around. Not to say, it doesn’t happen…but that expectation leaves little room for experimentation.
This month I decided to take something that I know works and purposely mess around to find out what doesn’t work. Genie, the founder of the event also proposed that participants try something new in the food photography field…as if I needed any extra encouragement. This month’s host, Eva Taylor, a self proclaimed foodie who is enjoying her new foray into food styling has a tips and tricks section on her blog like I do. Therefore, I thought both Eva and Genie would both enjoy my contribution to the May edition of Our Growing Edge.
Photography-wise I decided to try natural lighting through a window. I have always used unfiltered outdoor lighting in the the same place, at the same time of day and generally with the same background. While in Hawaii I had none of my usual elements. I used a new table, a window where light filtered through a neighborhood alley and an afternoon time frame between 1pm – 3pm. I also decided to stick to one single lens, my new 50mm that is fixed with no zoom. It proved to be a very interesting exercise.
The recipe I chose was a homemade ricotta dumpling style pasta. It carries the name of ‘malfatti’ which translates as ‘poorly made’. I was told that the dish acquired this name because even if you mess up, it still works. I think it has more to do with the fact that the final result is like an unrefined gnocchi.
Upon altering the recipe this is what I learned:
- Panko bread crumbs are not to be used, ever. If you intend to make your own crumb (cracker, bread, etc) ensure that it is a fine textured crumb.
- Some commercial ricotta is grainy than others. I use homemade ricotta which is creamy and malleable. If you bought grainy ricotta or only have that available, replace 1/4 of the amount required with cream cheese.
- It is absolutely impossible to cook these in water that is above a simmer. Also if you put the dumplings in before the water has heated to said simmer, they will fall apart just as badly as if in boiling water.
- If you omit the greens, replace the amount required with more cheese or a different flavoring agent (preferably with a similar moisture content).
- It is important that the salt be fine grain and the pecorino romano be finely grated, the cheese you can buy pre-grated is usually to coarse.
- You can change the pecorino romano for a different dry aged cheese such as parmigiano-reggiano or grana padano.
- You can change the mixed greens for fresh herbs or a vegetable puree with a low moisture content (although this would make the dough a bit more dense and similar to a gnocchi)
I like all kinds of sauce. For this particular dish I sauteed about a handful of thinly sliced crimini mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter. I poured in 1 cup of heavy cream and tossed in 8 sage leaves. I cooked the cream on low until it thickened a bit; seasoned it with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. The pillowy dumplings with the rich infused cream was a spectacular pairing, if I do say so myself. If you make the full recipe I recommend having at least 1 liter (1 quart) of whatever sauce you like on hand; as well as slices of nice crusty bread.
Happy Edge Growing Ya’ll!