Bruschetta with Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Arugula Pesto | Donna Hay Styling & Photography Challenge 6

I was sleepily scrolling through my Facebook feed last week when a link from Happyolks caught my eye. One click, and I found myself nodding along as I read a very honest and thoughtful post on food photography. It was as though someone had taken…

Bruschetta with Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Arugula Pesto | Donna Hay Styling & Photography Challenge 6

I was sleepily scrolling through my Facebook feed last week when a link from Happyolks caught my eye. One click, and I found myself nodding along as I read a very honest and thoughtful post on food photography. It was as though someone had taken a peek into my heart and felt the fatigue I was experiencing with my own photographs.

Do you ever feel like you’re in a rut? As much as I have fun with the food I share with you, I have felt lately that I am on autopilot. While its good to have a system that works for me, and efficiency is certainly important, I needed to throw a wrench in it. To challenge myself to try something different.

Enter this photograph:

Photo Credit: Con Poulos

Photographed by Con Poulos for Donna Hay’s cookbook, Seasons, this seemingly straightforward scene is the subject of this month’s Donna Hay Styling & Photography Challenge. Hosted by the wonderful Simone of Jungle Frog Cooking, the idea behind the challenge is to study and analyze the inspiring photographs taken by the talented photographers behind the scenes of Donna Hay’s cookbooks.

I typically stay away from this aspect of food blogging – there are so many fun challenges one can participate in: between cooking your way through Dorie Greenspan, being a Daring Baker, and wondering Does My Blog Look Good In This? – there’s enough to keep one busy for years. But this one caught my eye. I respect Simone and her work. And while I certainly did not approach this challenge as one that would foster copying (or as I have called it, inbreeding) in food photography, I think the point is that it can be interesting to understand just what it took to capture these images that make us want to cook.

Besides, I had the fresh bread. And the arugula. And the prosciutto.

And I was hungry.

The Bruschetta with Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Arugula Pesto was melt in your mouth delicious. It took minutes to prepare, and just a few minutes more to eat until my plate was empty. But photographing it? Much harder than it looks.

The seemingly unfussy photo was a challenge to replicate. My excuses? My table is too dark. The light was dim from a passing rain storm. My props were different.

But enough of my excuses.

I love this shot, but it was way too close, in comparison to the original. There was something else wrong.

When I first set up my shot, I was on autopilot, with my light source coming from 9 o’clock. The curve of the table and the chair in the background matched the original, but the lighting definitely was not. So, I had to flip things around.

With the light coming from 3 o’clock, and the styling more stark, I stay as true as I can to Con Poulos’ original. I can appreciate the clarity of the knife and the more subtle shadow on the left side of the plate, though I wish I could have a lighter mood to the photograph. But this does speak to the passing rain clouds that afternoon, and the darkness of at my kitchen table.

In the end, my favorite shot was the one that matched the photograph’s lighting, but incorporated a little more interest in the background with the plate of pesto as well as more of the chair. But the biggest lesson for me was scaling back. Learning to work with minimal items in the shot. Working on balance.

And when you think about it, that easily translates into good, simple cooking — it’s an important reminder to keep things clean, without the fuss, and to focus on the few ingredients at hand. This bruschetta certainly represents that, and more.

Bruschetta with Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Arugula Pesto


8 slices of bread
1 clove garlic, halved
extra virgin olive oil (to brush on bread)
4 pieces mozzarella (it is equally tasty with goat cheese)
8 slices prosciutto
freshly ground black pepper

1 handful basil (or you can use all arugula)
2 handfuls rocket arugula
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 garlic clove
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


Make the pesto by placing the basil, arugula, pine nuts, Parmesan and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse so that it still chunky. With the motor running, add the olive oil. Try to make sure the pesto still has some body and is not thin.

Brush both sides of bread lightly with olive oil. Toast the bread on a grill pan or in a toaster. Rub both sides with garlic clove. Spread pesto on top, and layer with cheese and prosciutto.

Recipe from Seasons, by Donna Hay.


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  1. angela@spinachtiger

    Looking at a picture like this confirms my food philosophy. The simple dishes, done well are exquisite. Your pictures and food are at this moment simple and exquisite.

  2. Jean

    Liren, your interpretation of the DH original is great. I think you captured all the critical elements of the photo. I actually like yours more. I am in love with DH photography and have been too intimidated to tackle the challenges. You made it look like a breeze. :)

  3. Mercedes

    This looks so beautiful and delicious! I love how simple it is and my husband would just love the arugula pesto!

  4. Gina

    Wow Liren you are mastering this photography thing. I like your shot better, it made me hungrier. But then again you are speaking my food language. It’s good to try new things, I’m in a rut too, but moving isn’t helping things. Hope you have a great weekend.

  5. Elizabeth @ Saffron Lane

    I completely agree with Cristina. I actually prefer Liren’s image — so I guess I’d say this challenge was a major success. And, yes, I’m in a big rut right now and am pondering so many aspects of my work … and myself. Sometimes stepping away from everything for a while and seeing things from another perspective is all it takes to hit “recharge”. Gorgeous work, Liren!

  6. Roxana GreenGirl { A little bit of everything}

    first time I heard about this challenge was last month on Kankana’s (Sunshine & Smile) blog.
    I browsed then through previous galleries and I was surprised to see some (most) of those that took the challenge had a better photo than the original.
    The original photo seems like dead nature, while other come to life, they make me crave them!
    Your photos are beautiful as ever Liren :)

  7. Nancy/SpicieFoodie

    Hi Liren,

    Being on auto-pilot happens to us all. The only way out of it is as you did, to challenge ourselves. Your shots are fantastic. I agree with you about adding the pesto in the background it adds another great element to the photo. Thanks for sharing, the bruschetta looks fantastic!

  8. Dramatic Pancake

    Liren, this is such a great post! It’s comforting to hear that even someone like you, whose photography I admire so much, still has days where you feel like you’re in a rut. I loved hearing about your process for these shots, and I think they turned out wonderfully!

  9. Nami | Just One Cookbook

    Liren, great shots! I saw Donna Hay challenge on Kankana’s site last month and I really admire people who try extra harder to improve their photography. I want to learn but I’ve been too lazy and carried away with busy daily schedule. I think at some point I need to push myself. Beautiful photos. Delicious bruschetta too!

  10. Cristina

    Delicious, rustic flavors on this bruschetta, Liren. My kinda food for any time of the day. I think your version of the image…turned out much livelier and vibrant than the original (IMO :) ). Beautifully done and I like the contrast against the dark back.

  11. Simone

    O yeah! You made it despite the webhosting troubles!! I too love this challenge as it makes me think outside the box and outside of my comfort zone. I tend to stick to what I know and the things I do best but that doesn’t help me grow or learn more and this challenge is just great in that respect. And you’ve done a great job too, especially with the limited lighting you had since I do think the original has a bit brighter light coming in from the right. What I struggled with a lot of and I know most others did too was the perspective of the various elements. it drove me nuts!
    In the end I loved the dish and isn’t that all that matters.
    great job and hope to see you again next month! And we will have prizes to win then!

    • Liren

      Simone, a late thank you! I can’t tell you how I needed this challenge at this time. So looking forward to the next one. I’m off to your site to check it out :)

  12. Patty

    Beautiful Liren! I sure am glad you were hungry and had all the ingredients on hand.
    I like the glass on the dark background behind the food, it kind of pulls the eye over the bruschetta and then back again for another look at that delicious plate of food;-)

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