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