Monday, March 1, 2010

Linguine with Mascarpone & Prosciutto

Today I am going to post some "real food" as Mr. Humble likes to call it.

Real food and well... a bit of a rant concerning staging food.

Now like most food bloggers, I stage the food that goes onto the blog. Meaning I pay a little more attention to how I arrange my plates than I would were just serving it up for the Humble household table. I think that is an acceptable level of manipulation, as it is entirely possible to recreate.

What I do not employ are tricks like rubbing barely cooked steak with shoe polish to give it that nicely browned look, using shortening mixed with powdered sugar for indestructible ice cream, or hair spray to make my cake slices look moist. You get the idea, taking food and rendering it inedible for the sake of looks.

Anyway, I don't like fooling people and I certainly don't like being fooled myself.

Like I was this weekend when I spotted a gorgeous Moroccan stew. It was lovely with chunks of lamb mingling with garbanzo beans, lentils, herbs and vermicelli.

So I made this stew for dinner Saturday night, following the instructions to the letter, only to have it come out looking like something my dog barfed up. Well, that is if I had a dog and it happened to survive solely on a diet of corrugated cardboard.

The stew was miserable looking. After simmering for two hours the fresh herbs and lamb were now roughly the same unattractive color. The lentils, garbanzo beans and vermicelli mingled in the insipid gray broth. It tasted alright but it looked awful.

So I took a second, critical look at the photo included with the recipe. The herbs shown are bright and vibrant! Clearly they had not been been simmering in a stock pot for two hours. The lamb chunks appeared to have been seared and then placed artfully arranged on top. The Garbanzo beans, neatly piled in the center of the bowl had the glossy, fresh from the can look... this soup was a LIE.

I was pretty annoyed. Okay I was really annoyed. I was going to post the photos of the soup as advertised and the real soup on my blog but it is so utterly depressing that I can't bring myself to photograph it nor inflict that kind of visual trauma on my readers.

Rest assured that I will never pull that kind of nonsense on this blog.

Anyway, lets get to today's lunch.

I'm still making an effort to deal with the surplus mascarpone I have on hand. So I decided to toss linguine with it, mixed with basil pesto.

To contrast the creamy sauce, I added salty slivers of pecorino romano and thick pieces of prosciutto. To give the dish a little color and texture I added some freshly toasted pine nuts and a scattering of fresh basil leaves.

A quick lunch for the little Humble and I, one that required less than 15 minutes of hands-on time.

Tasty and pretty, no shoe polish or hairspray needed.

Not So Humble Linguine with Mascarpone & Prosciutto
serves 8
1 lb linguine
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2-3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup basil pesto
1 cup thickly sliced prosciutto, cut into bite sized pieces
pecorino romano
fresh basil
salt and ground pepper

Boil the pasta according to the package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes until they are fragrant.

Drain the pasta and then toss with the mascarpone and pesto to coat. Plate the pasta and sprinkle with the pine nuts, prosciutto, shaved pecorino romano, basil and season with salt and fresh ground pepper.


  1. Our feelings on the acceptable level of "manipulation" in food photography are identical!! I completely agree that food presented should be achievable via the recipe! That sort of "recreated" food bothers me too.

    And I'm loving your mascarpone posts! Mmmm!

  2. I have similar feelings about commercially prepared food that has mainly non-food ingredients in it. I mean I get as much joy as the next person from orange Cheeto-fingers. But when my kids world view is so warped that they think that clam chowder should be a semi-solid lump of white, clam-flavored blech it is just wrong.

  3. I understand exactly what you mean about 'fake' food recipes which never look like the styled out one supplied. Same goes for the ready-meals avaliable in supermarket frozen and chilled sections. The inner product always ends up looking like a three day old, gray, limp version of what is shown on the front. Oh the lies. Like you, I agree that food pictures on blogs should be 'staged' in the sense that you work with what you have to make it look pretty. However I would never go to the extremes of shoe polish and hairspray to trick people into thinking that they can achieve the same results using the supplied recipe (which obviously wouldn't include hairspray in the ingredients list). Okay, rant over.
    Linguine looks gorgeously simple and not to mention... real! I love pasta with cheese sauces. Although my bingo wings would disagree with that last statement.

  4. I love a good rant! I eat, or feed people everything I post so no shoe polish here. All of your photos are amazing anyway and could rival any magazine spread in my opinion. I think cooking mags are the worst food fakers.

  5. Hairspray? Hmm...might have to try that next time I bake! I have to admit to a certain fascination with the oh-so-perfect pictures found on cereal boxes, coupon fliers, etc. I find it amazing how far we've come, from survival status, to scientifically establishing the ideal pea formation in the picture of a tuna casserole being used as background in a paper towel ad.

    Ah, civilization!

  6. Okay, I'm gullible. It never occurred to me that people would do this except for an ad. People do this on their blogs? Or on recipes that they post? Oh my! Now I'm just sad. Might have to eat something with chocolate to cheer me up.

  7. Yum. After all those posts on macarons. I love the change away from sweet food and into much more "real" food like you said.

  8. SouthLakesMom,

    Oh this wasn't a fellow blogger, this recipe was out of a cookbook.

    Food bloggers are almost always more reliable than cookbooks. Generally, what you see is what you get.

  9. Thank you for your honesty. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't care for food that includes shoe polish and hairspray.

  10. Portal 2: The Soup is a Lie.

    (I realize it is entirely possible that you were not referencing Portal w/ the soup realization, but I couldn't help myself. Supernerd, I am.)

    Long-time reader, first time commentator, super science geek

  11. Voraciousbrain,

    Of course I'm referencing Portal.

    Note the following venn diagram.

  12. I have yet to be published on Tastespotting, clearly I know too few tricks. And really have poor manipulation skills. And like to eat my food while it's still hot so only have about 10 minutes to photograph it lol....I think all your photos look delicious AND beautiful, there should be rules against photo-lies!

  13. ...All this time I just assumed I couldn't prepare food attractively.

    Also, if I had a 10 pound tub of mascarpone I would be eating chicken and asparagus risotto for every meal. If I hadn't given up meat for Lent. Sigh.

  14. Akk, how did I miss that venn diagram?! It makes me really happy, as I too am in the cozy intersection of all 3 sets. (All the cool kids are in Gamers∩Scientists∩Bakers)

  15. The above comment was accidentally posted under the wrong WordPress id... ahem. Apparently, in my excitement I forgot how to operate a computer.

    So, previous comment was from me...

  16. I am subscribing to this blog for the sole purpose of how delicious the food posted looks, and maybe I will have motivation to make some of it.

  17. I used to care that my pictures never looked perfect and photogenic. I then realized, "Hey, at least it looks tasty!" I like my amateur food photos, they're home-style!

    As for your looks delightful! The thought of the prosciutto...mmm...

  18. The first time you mentioned you had too much mascarpone laying around I instantly thought about the scalloped potato dish I made last week (it uses mascarpone, with no cream or milk). I have a feeling you'd enjoy it. (If you try it I'd love to hear what you think about it!)

  19. So, fresh and lovely. Just like all your beautiful photography!

  20. Ha, I know what you mean about people making food look better in TV ads, mags and such. I think it's okay to do so, but maybe they should mention it somewhere too... But woah, rubbing a steak with shoe polish? This sounds extra nasty to me! Too bad though you decided against posting the real vs fake pictures on here, I'd love to see!

  21. I never do that. Which is why, my dear Humble, my photos suck!

  22. Wow, I didn't think people did that anymore. And ya, I'm with you, I'll reposition certain vegetables or what not, or turn the bowl to it's most attractive side, but that's the extent of it.

  23. "... this soup was a LIE"

    He hee.
    You are a woman after my own heart :)

  24. I work in advertising as a copywriter, and sometimes get to go on photoshoots.

    On one such occasion we were shooting a print ad for a drug that treats feline kidney disease. The concept involved some cat food spelling out a word (seriously, people pay me to come up with this stuff), which apparently required a food stylist.

    In sweeps this self-important grande dame, all fur and pearls, telling us loudly how she's styled Jamie and Gordon (this was in the UK).

    "That's lovely," say me & my scruffy art director, "but could you make the cat food look a bit more gross."

    She was not impressed.


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