Food for Thought
---- — “A portion of the plate is all you may need to tell the story.”
– John Carafoli.
There are so many dynamic, discerning, educated people in the food world that one easily goes from “nice to meet you” to “let’s go to Umbria, and shave truffles over homemade strangozzi together!”
That’s how I feel about John Carafoli, who is indeed leading a tour, named “Unexpected Umbria,” next October for those lucky enough to sign up quickly.
Carafoli lives in a piccolo blue farm house on Maple Street in West Barnstable with his partner, John, a cat and a flock of chickens. Seriously authentic copper polenta pots gleam from big hooks in his kitchen. He’s got a cupboard full of his own homemade preserves, including something called “savour,” a potent compote of autumn fruits that cooks for nine days. On the ninth day you add chestnuts. A recipe from the Sicilian ladies of Sagamore on Cape Cod, with whom Carafoli grew up, this preserve tastes as biblical as it sounds.
Carafoli is a food writer; his most recent literary contribution to cuisine is the “Cape Cod Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from Buzzards Bay To Provincetown.” For the vivid styling, the beautiful shots of Cape Cod greats and their “best of show,” and for the Crow Farm Blueberry Cake recipe, this book belongs on everyone’s coffee table and kitchen counter.
It’s an elite group in the food industry that can prepare a perfect proscuitto ragu, write a compelling story about it, and take an award-winning picture of it. Also author of the seminal book on the subject, “Food Photography and Styling,” for years Carafoli has been the guy to make Coca-Cola look refreshing and Dunkin Donuts look freshly baked. Carafoli is a premier food stylist, and he makes a delicious prosciutto ragu.
Epicurious recently published a blog on Carafoli’s tips for iPhone food styling. He and I were talking on the phone the other night, scheming Cape Cod and Umbrian tours, and I asked him what he was making for dinner. Loosely, John gave me this recipe, which seemed like exactly the right meal after a day of unexpected January blizzard. I adapted a bit, but as I was preparing it, I considered some of my favorite Carafoli styling tips.
Let the food do what it does naturally. Don’t force it into an unnatural shape.
Use your mistakes to your advantage. Don’t fight them; embrace them! Wayward bits of chopped herbs, noodles that stray beyond the plate, or errant dribbles of sauce all make your food look real.
Experiment with wood, stone, cloth, grass, even paper. Avoid large clunky candles and bulbous wine glasses. Shoot with and without flatware and/or serving spoons.
Sometimes the raw ingredients are more beautiful than the cooked versions. Photograph your dish at various stages of preparation to find the most compelling image.
The Maple Syrup Pour: Quick-chill the maple syrup in the freezer for about 15 minutes to thicken it up so that it pours more slowly.
My maple syrup pour didn’t work so well, but it’s there.
“Dated” Thai Curry Butternut Squash Soup
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 large sweet onion, cut in eighths
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cinnamon stick
2 apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut in chunks
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons red curry paste (dissolved in 2 tbsp. water)
1, 14-ounce can coconut milk
Juice from 2 limes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons pepper
1/2 cup loosely chopped dates
1/2 cup toasted pistachios (or almonds or pinenuts)
Maple syrup to drizzle on top
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat a medium sized skillet over medium-low heat and add coconut oil. Once it’s melted, add in the onions, garlic, cinnamon stick with a pinch of salt and stir. Cook until the onions are soft and almost caramelized. Remove cinnamon sticks.
2. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, put the apples and squash in the chicken stock with some salt. Bring to a fast simmer, and cook until the squash is very soft, about 30 minutes.
3. In a small glass dish, dissolve the curry paste in a bit of warm water, loosely 2 tablespoons. Then pour the curry paste into the pan with the squash.
4. Add the coconut milk and the onion mixture to the squash.
5. Remove the sqaush from heat and, with an emulsion mixer or a blender, puree the soup.
6. Pour it back into the pot and turn the heat on to medium low. Add in the lime juice, salt and pepper, and stir. Cover and cook the soup for 10 minutes until it’s completely warm. Taste and season additionally if desired.
7. On a cutting board, loosely chop the dates and pistachios together. The dates will get gummy, and hold the chopped nuts together. Top the soup with generous spoonfuls of this mixture. Drizzle a small amount of maple syrup on top, and sprinkle with cilantro.
Rockport resident Heather Atwood writes the Food for Thought column weekly. Questions and comments may be directed to email@example.com.