Bruschetta with Arugula Pesto

by Jenn on February 21, 2012

in Dips and Sauces,Gluten Free,No Cook,Photography,Snacks


This dish may be called bruschetta, but to me it is really all about the pesto.  Maybe it’s because in my mind, bruschetta has always been a tomato based topping while growing up, and so it seems a bit weird to me to call this bruschetta, when there are no tomatoes.  So instead, to me, this is an open-faced sandwich with pesto, mozz, and prosciutto (which only my husband could enjoy since cured meats are off limits for me for a while at least until the baby arrives).  But hey, no matter what the nomenclature should be (and thanks to a friend I now know that bruschetta is be a very generic term for things served on bread in Italian, so calling this bruschetta is totally correct), it is a very tasty snack.

The slice of GF bread was fried in our grill pan with some butter, and then pesto was spread on, and topped with a few slices of buffalo mozzarella and some slices of prosciutto.  This particular recipe called for arugula and basil as the base to the pesto, which was a nice combination.  Personally, I think pesto can be made out of whatever greens you have around.  No need to go for pricey basil when you could have spinach, or kale, or arugula, or a whole host of different greens. Parsley also works well for a nice bright and fresh flavor.  As for the pine nuts, I don’t think pesto needs to be so particular about those either.  I’ve easily substituted in walnuts, cashews, even sesame seeds.  Can’t have cheese? No worries, just leave out the grated parm.  I think pesto can be extremely flexible in that sense – the only thing I won’t compromise on is garlic, because well, garlic is the main reason I make pesto in the first place :)

 I made this dish for Simone’s Donna Hay Styling and Photography Challenge, which this month featured an image of bruschetta with mozz, prosciutto and arugula pesto as photographed by the ever talented Con Poulos.

As always, the challenge is the recreate the dish including styling and photography as best we can while still making it something of our own.  Sometimes I take that a bit more to heart than others, and this was definitely one of those cases.  I had none of the props or setup for a nice dark moody shot, and knew that just wasn’t going to be possible without buying a new dining table/chairs, vintage settings/servingware, and finding a suitable water carafe.  So I said “whatever” to that idea and instead tried to follow a general composition (with significant liberties) to just create an image that would make one want to grab that dish from the photo.  Was I successful? That is for you to decide :)

My first image I think I like the mood and atmosphere the best – it’s dark and moody with strong shadows, and a very shallow focus to give a kind of dreamy quality.  Instead of a water carafe I use our olive oil jar, and I added a small plate of pesto into the background to fill in what I felt was a bit of empty lonely space.  Maybe the focus was a bit too shallow, because when I go back to look at this now I find the focus fell on the very front of  the knife handle rather than anywhere on the actual food – and to me, that ruins the image – along with the fact that the highlights on the knife are way too bright drawing the viewers eye again to the knife rather than the plate of food –  the point is to sell the food, not the knife!  What I should have done to make this shot work was shoot tethered so that I could see where my focus fell better, and diffused the light a bit more to soften the glare on the knife handle.

Donna Hay Styling Challenge - Bruschetta

Not being completely satisfied, I decided to go ahead and make the image at the top of this post.  This time a bit brighter (also a white bounce to soften the shadows), a bit closer, and I swapped out the olive oil bottle for an old vinegar bottle I found on a past trip to Italy, which I thought resembled a shape more like the water carafe in the original.  I also felt that the clear color helped to keep the focus and color contrast on the food, so as to draw more attention to the beautiful yummy bread and toppings.  Not to mention getting a lot closer to the food.  Now we can start to see some texture in the bread and pesto, as well as the ribboning in the prosciutto. Mmmmmm. And because I went with a brighter atmosphere, the highlights didn’t bother me as much.  However what does bother me about that photo is my napkin placement.  I decided to go for the blue striped napkin to balance the blue of the knife a bit, but could not find a way to style the napkin that didn’t look a bit awkward – and now I look and see the straight line made by the napkin and plate touching each other in the photo and feel that line doesn’t jive with the rest of the composition.

So I made a 3rd attempt, and decided to completely change things up – I went with my blue checked tablecloth, switched to some pewter elements because my little saucer of pesto looked a bit out of place, and filled the vinegar bottle with some actual vinegar, as I see a light salad going with this dish rather well for a refreshing brunch.   I felt the sandwich stood out more on the metal plate (despite my husband’s disappointment, as plating on these old pewter plates means the food was no longer edible), because of the color and texture contrasts.  You can see I still have issues figuring out how to place that napkin.  I desperately need a napkin folding/styling/art class of some sort.  My main problem with this one was now everything felt a little too muted – maybe the light was too diffused here, not sure.  So my choice to enter is the top photo.

Donna Hay Styling Challenge - Bruschetta

It’s always interesting to me to see how three completely different images can be created from basically the same sandwich and props!

As for the pesto, here are my guidelines for making any pesto, which you can adapt as you see fit –


Pesto: Create Your Own Variation

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes


  • 2 – 4 cups (100-200g) of leafy and fragrant greens or herbs – basil, parsley, arugula, spinach, whatever you like
  • 1/2 cup (handful) toasted pine nuts, or walnuts, or cashews, or sesame seeds…
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup (small handful) of grated parmesan, (or if  you are dairy free, skip this)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • several glugs of high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Add greens, nuts/seeds, lemon, parm, and garlic to a food processor.  Pulse until well blended.
  2. Add in olive oil and pulse in the food processor until the consistency becomes a bit creamy and spreadable.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want more of one ingredient, add in more. This isn’t meant to be a strict recipe, whenever I make pesto I generally go by feel anyways.  If you find a different ingredient you want to substitute in, go ahead and give it a try.  You never know how it will come out until you experiment a little.


Other pestos I have made:
Truffled Pesto Sauce
Spinach Pesto
Chive and Dill Pesto
Sage and Butter Pesto for Roast Chicken
Spinach and Ramps Pesto 

Also submitted to Gluten Free Wednesdays


Rosa February 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Wonderful clicks! The last one is my favorite.



Jenn February 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Thanks Rosa!

Simone February 21, 2012 at 6:41 pm

What I love about these challenges is that you can have one photo and then there are so many variations that people come up with and not one of them is necessarily bad..:) I love your top shot the most too although yes the napkin looks a bit akward in that position. If you ever do find a napkin styling/whatever workshop, let me know and I’ll join! Need help there too.. :) As always I love your thought process behind the whole exercise and I do think the first image resembles the original the most of your three images and as I always say; it’s about the exercise more then anything else.. 😉

Jenn February 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Thanks Simone – if I ever come across some cool napkin skills I will def. let you know!

Kiri W. February 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm

First of all – delicious!
Second – Thank you so much for the advice. I have no photography experience and these posts are very enlightening.

Jenn February 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Thanks so much!

Lacy @ NYCityEats February 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Wow this looks amazing! It’s ashame you couldn’t have any! I so need to learn about the photo setups, the plates, utensils, background ingredients…I’m just not so great at it. Your pics are gorgeous!

Jenn February 21, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Thank you!

Jeanne @ CookSister! February 22, 2012 at 1:51 am

Love, love, love how you talk us through your thought processes on these shots! I find natural napkin folding very hard – everything I do with a napkin looks forced and awkward to me! And it’s so annoying when you are shooting with a very narrow DoF and then find that you’ve focused on one small thing in the photo that has nothing to do with the food, and everything edible is out of focus… Been there, done that, sworn a bit 😉 Great shots – tough choice between the 1st and the 3rd!

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 8:18 am

Aww thanks Jeanne! Sounds like we need a plate to page reunion with a napkin party!

Harini February 22, 2012 at 4:13 am

I like how you have recreated ‘you’ within the original framework. I ended up with a different picture in my mind by the time I did the setting! I agree about the pesto – it is more to do with garlic than anything else.:)

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 8:18 am

Thanks so much Harini!

Amy Tong February 22, 2012 at 10:45 am

What a great and fun challenge! Yes, I do want to reach into the screen and grab your bruschetta! You’re making me craving for one. Best of luck to you with your contest. All 3 photos are wonderful and I do love the top one the most too. :)

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Thanks Amy!

Katrina (gluten free gidget) February 22, 2012 at 11:57 am

Strong choice! You’re photos are always beyond gorgeous though.

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Aww thanks Katrina!

onionchoco February 22, 2012 at 12:24 pm

It’s a perfect start of the day for me. The natural light makes photos so calm, bright and cosy. Just beautiful!

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 9:13 pm


Bryan February 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Sounds like an awesome lunch, thanks for sharing!

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Thank you !

Ellen (Gluten Free Diva) February 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Someone else who is as attentive to their blog pictures as me. I’m still a newbie though, learning as much as I can by visiting beautiful GF blogs like yours. Thanks for sharing. I vote for the first one!

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Thanks Ellen! Yes I am very attentive, maybe too much so….

Ben February 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Beautiful pictures!

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Thanks so much Ben!

Kristina February 22, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Gorgeous pictures! It’s so cool seeing how different all three are, and your bruschetta look soooo delicious, it’s definitely all about the pesto :) yum!

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Thanks – and glad to find another pesto lover!

Charlie February 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Jenn: I must say out of the ones I saw on the link .. yours looks the most appetizing.

Beautiful colour, not skimping on ingredients, a full rounded meal.

I love the first picture!

I didn’t notice the napkin until it was mentioned.
No need for napkin classes .. go casual for a casual meal.
Open your napkin, grab by the centre, let it fall naturally in it’s shape and place beside the plate. Don’t play with it, just let it do it’s own thing.

As always Jenn, you’re and inspiration!

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Thank you! I will definitely keep your tips in mind next time about the napkins, thanks!

Charlie February 22, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I encourage everyone to click on the link
Scroll to the bottom
Click on the like button for Jenn’s

Lana February 22, 2012 at 9:21 pm

How I love to read your detailed process posts! This is the best way for me to learn, and you are a great instructor:)
I love all three shots and it is amazing to me how different they are. The third shot appealed to me the most, because it is muted and quirky, with all that pewter.
I hope the baby is treating you well! You should be in the best phase of the pregnancy now:)

Jenn February 22, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Aww thanks Lana! and yes, so far so good!!

Madonna February 23, 2012 at 2:33 am

I clicked on your site from foodgawker for the photo. I have a blog, but I cannot/will not publish because I am a lousy photographer. I scrolled down and then up and started reading. I thought you were going to choose another photo and I thought I was totally off base, that maybe I just don’t have an eye for this, but then you went with the first one – the one I chose. Although I have no skills I know what I like, and now I am feeling more confident of my judgment.

I noticed that your watermark is on the edge of each photo. Are you concerned about someone cropping your photo and taking them for his or her own? I have been reading a lot about this and they are saying not if, but when someone steals your photos.

Jenn February 23, 2012 at 7:20 am

Thanks! Never doubt your own eye – half of photography is skill but the other half is personal/artistic judgement. And it’s def. ok to disagree with others on what you like best. It’s one of the things I love most about artistic endeavors.

As for the watermark, I have tried to find a balance between preserving the aesthetic quality of my work and protecting it. I’ve decided I rather a strong watermark easily seen in the corner than a faint one in the middle. You are right that a watermark is no where near foolproof, but I use it as a calling card more than anything else – when it gets uploaded to tumblr and then subsequently to pinterest without credit, the watermark can help someone identify where the image came from and maybe lead someone back to my site. Additionally my info and copyright/contact info are embedded in the exif of the image, and I have disabled right clicking on images on my site. Sure someone can work around those things if they are motivated enough, and that’s why I never post full res images online. There are also tools such as reverse image searching that can help identify where images have ended up on the Internet too. Unfortunately there’s only so much an amateur hobbyist can do without making protecting their work a full time job…

Madonna February 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I was wondering how bloggers cope with these problems. Thank you so much – really good info.

Tyler February 23, 2012 at 6:26 am

I realize you weren’t trying to sell the knife, but can I aks what brand it is? I’m quite smitten with it… Also, I love simple sandwiches like this. I’ve gotten away from mashing as many ingredients between slices of bread, 3 seems to be the magic number, will definitely be reaching for the pesto next time I make a sammy.

Jenn February 23, 2012 at 7:01 am

Thanks! The knife brand is Laguiole – I happened to pick up an old very worn set at a flea market that I use as food props, but they are very pretty! If I could buy a new set to use for eating I would! They are made in all sorts of colors too.

France @ Beyond The Peel February 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm

I love seeing how you work through the process. Being new to photography I am able to learn through your experience. I actually remember this meal…I think it’s in one of my cookbooks. I love Donna’s simplicity.

Jenn February 23, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Thanks!! I think I need to get this book, love Donna’s recipes!

Baltic Maid February 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm

These sandwiches look delicious! Your pictures are just stunning, so beautiful!

Jenn February 26, 2012 at 9:08 am

Thank you so much!

Brian @ A Thought For Food February 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Ha! I love it when you take us through your thought process of photographing dishes. No matter what, your images are always gorgeous – even if they’re out of focus. Love this recipe too! I’m a big fan of arugula pesto (still trying to get E to warm up to it).

Jenn February 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Thanks Brian!

Magda (@MagdasCauldron) February 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Beautiful like always :) I could use napkin folding class too.

Jenn February 26, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Aww thanks Magda!

Nicole February 27, 2012 at 11:43 pm

I hear what you are saying about some people taking the challenges to heart more than others. I felt the same way you did when I originally looked at the photo, I thought I would never be able to re-create it as I didn’t have the props. I think in the end that was a good thing for you as it challenged you to recreate the feel of the photo without having the exact props. I think you did a great job with it. Your shots are always great.

Jenn February 28, 2012 at 8:11 am

Thanks so much Nicole! Yes if only we all had multiple tables/dining sets at our disposal!

Charlie March 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Jenn: I was just over on Junglefrog.


You deserve to win!


Jenn March 1, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Thanks !

Laura March 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Great job! I will join this month.

Jenn March 2, 2012 at 7:50 pm

oooh great!! they are always such fun challenges :)

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen March 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Wow, that sandwich just “pops” off the screen. Fantastic photography. Best of luck in the challenge. You’ve got talent.

Jenn March 3, 2012 at 3:53 am

Thank you!!

Tim April 25, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Thank you for writing this. I’m just starting out with the foodblogging thing and so I have lots of enthusiasm and little skill as a photographer. So I never really understood why a lot of my photos don’t come out as well as I’d have hoped. So I’ve found this post (and all the posts linked within) very enlightening. Thanks again!

Jenn April 25, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Thanks so much, glad you found it helpful!

Tim April 26, 2012 at 8:19 am

Hmmm… must have been half asleep yesterday. I meant to post that comment here actually:

but yeah, the sentiment re all the useful photography tips still stands 😉

Jenn April 26, 2012 at 8:27 am

ha, no worries!

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