VEGAN FIG AND KALE PESTO PIZZA! AND THOUGHTS ON FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY 3 (V+, ChF)

VEGAN FIG AND KALE PESTO PIZZA! AND THOUGHTS ON FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY 3 (V+, ChF)

As those of you who have been reading the blog over the past few months know, I have been eager to make food blogging, recipe development, food writing and all that goes with it more than just a hobby. In order to achieve that I have spent the last few weeks trying to formulate what exactly it is I want to do and how I can ultimately fulfil my dream.  To help me find my way I did a blogger collaboration with Ceri from Natural Kitchen Adventures a few weeks ago (I shall touch on that again at the end of today's blog post) and I also attended the food blogger connect conference. Both experiences were immensely useful in assisting me to thrush out my path in the food blogging world. But, I knew that something was still missing and that I had to add another little piece to the puzzle to make it complete.

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As if destiny (or Marte Marie Forsberg ;)) knew I needed a helping hand, I stumbled upon an opportunity of a lifetime: a 1-2-1 bespoke food photography retreat in Dorset with the lovely and talented Marte Marie Forsberg. It was a financial investment for sure, but I felt at this stage of the game, one that was completely worth it and (dare I say) necessary. So without a moment's hesitation and well before a speckle of doubt could form in my mind, I got in touch with Marte Marie and booked my spot. A few week's later at a shockingly early hour of the morning on a gorgeous autumnal day, I found myself on a train heading towards the rolling green hills of Dorset, in the middle of the English countryside. I had nothing more than a big smile and a camera with me, which was all I needed...

Some two hours later I arrived on Marte Marie's doorstep. Her home looks exactly as I'd imagined it: quaint and lovely though being there felt a little surreal at first. We started the day chatting over some warm tea - rooibos, no sugar - and I instantly knew I was in excellent company. Then Marte Marie suggested a schedule for the day which involved:

1. preparing my vegan kale pesto and fig pizza
2. exploring how best to style and photograph the recipe
3. visiting an antiques market for prop shopping (this is what I got ;)) 
4. talking through how best to edit the photos for a blog post
5. debriefing and talking over dinner about how to make 'food' a career.

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With an action packed day ahead of us we had little time to spare and got stuck in. Now I have to say that I spend a full 12 hours (!) with Marte Marie absorbing as much of her teaching as I could and sadly there is no way I could fit all I learned into this one blog post, whilst still doing her words justice. Therefore, I thought I'd highlight the key 3 points I took away from the day, which I hope you'll find helpful :).

LIGHT IS EVERYTHING
I know this is what everyone always says and indeed I am well aware that I mentioned it before too, but it is truly the key to all things beautiful. What was a new experience for me though was the depth at which we explored light, its particles and how to use them in the best way possible. We spoke much more about how light can enhance a certain mood and how to create a 'moody' feel, which – in contrast to what I am normally drawn to – was what I envisaged this recipe to have.

So with that in mind, Marte Marie and I thought about the background we were going to use because this seemingly minuet decision had a massive impact on light and mood. You see, some background textures will absorb the light, others will reflect them whereas yet others will create interesting and intriguing details that bring layers, shadows and textures to your shot. I personally love working with fabrics most because I love the softness of it, but for this particular, rustic recipe that just wasn't gonna cut it and the battered wooden look (which is in fact an old antique door. SO dreamy) seemed a much better option.

Marte Marie was then able to help me think about how other things like the colour and height of the ceiling and the texture of floors and walls around the area where we were taking pictures was having a significant impact on our photos too. So, to create that darker feel, we photographed the food slightly away from a big window, very close to a dark corner of the house and covered the nearby walls with black cloth. The latter stopped the light from bouncing around which I found fascinating, especially as it seemed to me utterly counter-intuitive. (All food needs lots of light right?) 

Furthermore we went to different parts of the house to see how the size of the windows, the angle of the falling light and even objects outside the window would affect how the food would look from the perspective of the camera. A mind blowing, eye opening experience.

Now I must say that the light in Marte's cottage was unreal and I joked at some point that I could have photographed rotting fruit and it would still have looked a million dollars. Whether I can find that exact light in my home remains to be seen, but more importantly I feel much clearer about what I need to look out for should I wish to go all moody on you again. However I do wish to stress that I've not gone over to the dark side all together yet ;) and things will probably stay quite light and soft here at least for a while :).

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CREATE A STORY BOARD
The second key lesson I walked away from was the idea of planning my blog post and creating a story board. So what exactly does this mean? Well, Marte Marie suggested that before I photograph a recipe for a blog post, I think carefully about how many images I actually want to share and what I'm trying to convey with each one of them. What this will do, Marte Marie explained, is avoid me taking and posting countless pictures of the exact same thing, just from a slightly different angle. It is a time saving strategy too as it steers your energy into taking the shots that matter and makes the post production side of things less laborious as you're not wading through endless, duplicate shots (sound familiar?).

For this post we decided to have:

1 detailed portrait overhead shot of a key ingredient – the kale
1 landscape shot of most of the ingredients – the flour and figs
1 portrait action shot of one of us kneading the dough 
1 landscape overhead shot of the final pizza
1 portrait overhead shot of one of us eating the pizza

Now you'll see I somehow slipped in 2-3 more (oops). But in my defense, they went down a storm on instagram and it seemed almost a crime not to include them. Plus I know Marte Marie will forgive me as they do add to the story *blush*.

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INSPIRATION VS. IMMITATION VS. SUFFERING
As we were approaching the end of the day and unwinding over a stunningly delicious dinner at Marte Marie's favourite pub, I asked her which food bloggers she followed. She completely surprised me when she said that she read very, very few food blogs and mainly followed instagram accounts that had little to do with food photography. I asked her why and Marte Marie noted that sometimes bombarding oneself with content - no matter how inspiring and beautiful - can be rather confusing. She explained that it can steer us away from finding our own true voice and worse still lead us to doubt our own vision, imitating someone else's style instead because it feels safe and better.

To me that process of comparing myself to others sounded familiar. In the past it has led to much self doubt as well as, ultimately tremendous suffering. I guess to some extent it is part of the process every person goes through who puts creative content out there. And perhaps to some degree self doubt is necessary to truly reflect on the quality of your work and get better at what you do. But the intensity of these emotional ups and downs have felt like a new and at times rather unpleasant experience. So I loved Marte Marie's approach to protecting herself from that.

Thank you Marte Marie. Thank you for everything.


If you want to find out more about Marte Marie's workshops I suggest you follow her on instagram where she tends to announce projects and other bits and pieces. Thanks for reading everyone and now on to today's awesome recipe!

P.S. Want to read a tiny bit more about my food phtography journey? Then check out these posts? Or better still wish to support the blog? Then follow along on instagram or pin these pictures on your pinterest board ;)

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VEGAN FIG AND KALE PESTO PIZZA! (V+, ChF)

The idea of making a vegan pizza for the blog came after a back and forth with Ceri from Natural Kitchen Adventures. We'd agreed to do a joint blog post and not quite knowing what we were letting ourselves in for, were ambitious enough to think about doing not 1, not 2 but 3 different recipes in one day. The first one, the warm Japanese noodle salad I shared a few weeks ago was a hit and needed little if any tweeking. But the other two – this vegan fig and kale pesto pizza and a vegetarian gluten-free fig and feta cheese pizza required much more thought. I think we'd both hoped we'd get it right instantly AND photograph it to perfection, but it wasn't to be.

Hence Ceri and I had to continue recipe testing, styling and photographing the images anew in our own time and space. The hard work paid off though and I am beyond happy with the end result! You can of course find my recipe below, but if you'd like to see Ceri's gorgeous recipe, just click here :).

Thanks for reading everyone and happy pizza baking!

IMPORTANT: Please check the tips at the end of the recipe before you start baking.

Preparation Time: 40 minutes
Rising Time: 1-2 hours
Baking Time: 7 – 10 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients for the pizza dough (recipe adapted from the book Baking Bread With Children):
250g/8oz/2cups strong wholemeal bread flour (I used this one)
250g/8oz/2cups plain white flour
15ml/1tbsp sugar
10ml/2tsp salt
10ml/2tsp dried yeast (NOT quick acting)
300ml/1 ¼ cup warm water (not boiling hot)
45ml/3tbsp olive oil

Ingredients for the raw kale pesto (adapted from Natural Kitchen Adventures) and additional toppings:
60g kale, I used cavalo nero (stems removed)
60g parsley
50g almonds
1tsp salt
3 – 6 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
2tbs fresh lemon juice

a handful of fresh figs, washed ad thinly sliced
a handful of pine nuts
balsamic glaze (optional)

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Instructions:
In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the water together with the sugar. Let the liquid rest in a warm place for about 10 minutes or until it starts to bubble and to smell yeasty.

Then add the salt, olive oil and flour, until the dough comes together. It should still be soft and slightly sticky to touch.

Sprinkle some plain flour onto a clean work surface to avoid the dough sticking and knead for 10-20 minutes.

Then lightly grease a large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough inside and cover the bowl with a damp tea cloth. Let it rise for 1-2 hours (we left it for 90 minutes which was perfect) in a warm place or until the dough has doubled in size. Please do not leave it for more than 2 hours as the dough can collapse.

As the dough is rising, start working on your kale pesto by washing the kale (no stems) and parsley and placing them, together with the almonds, salt, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor, until they form a nice paste. Do taste to see if it required a little bit more salt (so personal).

The quantity of olive oil really depends on how running you like your pesto. I tend to work by eye on this one, so pardon me if the olive oil quantities aren't 100% exact.

Place in the fridge for later use.

Just before working with your dough again, preheat the oven to 220C/430F and place your pizza stone in the oven (not a must to have but helpful if you've got one). When the dough is ready, split it into 2 or 4 portions (depending on how big you want your pizzas to be and how big your oven is). Roll out the dough as flatly and thinly as you can and place in the oven for approximately 7 minutes or until the edges start to turn dark brown - not burned. (We placed the dough on a pizza stone (though I hadn't used one previously), which was quite hot.) If you are not using a pizza stone, please place the dough on a baking tray as close to the bottom of your oven as possible. This article here is a really good read if you're serious about good pizza doughs and need further insider tips.  

Because there aren't any topppings on the pizza base whilst it is in the oven, the centre did rise a tiny bit, so we pocked it with a fork a few times, to let the air out and keep the pizza base flat. 

Remove the finished pizza base from the oven when done, spread with a thin layer of kale pesto, sprinkle some pine nuts on top, add the sliced figs and a splash of balsamic glaze (if using, like I did here). Repeat and enjoy.

Tip 1: I tried to make the dough 3 times. Twice with spelt flour and once with the wholemeal flour. Both offered a great result, so play around with your favourite flour and remember to check our Ceri's recipe if you'd like to have a gluten-free base.
Tip 2: Even if you're not feeding 4 people, I urge you to make this quantitiy of dough. Just freeze half and use another day :)
Tip 3: You can of course also double the dough recipe, which is in fact what I did the day these pictures were taken. I wouldn't recommend it though as the dough was quite heavy and hard to handle.
Tip 4: Pesto is SO versatile! You can use any type of kale or other greens and herbs, pine nuts instead of the amonds suggested or pumpkin seeds for a nut free option. Just play around and have fun. The quantities here should be just right for the dough, but if you're freezing some dough, use the left over pesto as a dip with veggie sticks the next day :)
Tip 5: Remember to keep the dough as thin as you can and the oven as hot as possible. A pizza stone isn't a must but will help get the dough right. In fact, it's on my Christmas list ;).

Eat with....the perfect leafy green salad.