#76 Macaroni al Pesto

Welcome again to another photography critique from The Best of Cooking by Larousse. I chose Macaroni al Pesto for two reasons. First, I never made pesto before so I thought that would be fun. Second, I thought the photo would make a good teaching tool.

At first I was uncomfortable about critiquing someone else’s photography (or their recipes). For me, I discovered, it’s a learning tool. Why is this photo wrong? How can I improve on it? What are the problems with this recipe? How can I fix it? These are the questions I ask to grow as a photographer, cook, and baker.

You will note that there are certain elements of these photographs I do not critique. When I first learned photography, I used a film camera. I understand the editing limitations of using film as opposed to digital. Everything really needs to be right in camera. I strive to have everything right in camera as well, but I know I have an advantage. The few tools I do know in Lightroom can really polish a photo. Most of my critiques center on composition, the heart of food photography.

In the course of making this dish, I discovered that you need to double the recipe in order to make enough pesto for 1 pound of macaroni. Otherwise the amount of pesto distributed is too light.

Special Equipment – mortar & pestle, or blender or food processor

1) 1 pound of macaroni of your choice. The book uses a long type of macaroni I have never seen. Target had a clearance on some fun shaped organic pasta and I found just the opposite of what the book author’s used – Ditalini.


2) 1 clove garlic, crushed
3) a few sprigs of fresh basil
4) 1 tablespoon finely chopped pine nuts or walnuts
5) 5 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
6) pinch of cayenne pepper
7) 6 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation and Cooking
1) Cook the macaroni

2) Begin to prepare the pesto sauce.

The book says to use a mortar and pestle or blender to make the pesto sauce. I have a small mortar and pestle that wouldn’t work for this recipe. Besides, I couldn’t imagine myself crushing and blending the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle and somehow making it as smooth as the picture. Instead, I used my mini-food processor because it would chop the pine nuts at the same time. My sauce didn’t come out as the book says, “the consistency of creamed butter” but I think it looked like pesto and tasted like pesto so I was okay with it.

3) Peel the garlic clove. Crush the garlic using a garlic press and into the mini food processor.
4) Finely chop the basil leaves. Add to the food processor.
5) Add the pine nuts (ground or whole, it doesn’t matter) to the food processor.
6) Add the parmesan cheese to the food processor.
7) Add the cayenne pepper to the food processor.
8) If you didn’t ground the pine nuts, put the food processor on the “chop” setting. If the pine nuts are already ground, put the food process on the “grind” setting. Grind/chop the ingredients in the food processor for about 15-30 seconds.
9) Add the olive oil a tablespoon or two at a time, using the “grind” setting to mix everything together.
10) The macaroni should be done by now. Drain the water from the macaroni.
11) Place the macaroni in a large bowl.
12) Mix the pesto sauce thoroughly with the macaroni.


Here is the book picture:

Here is my picture:

Ditalini al Pesto

The major problem with the book picture is the presentation of the pesto sauce. Despite the fact that it is “the consistency of creamed butter,” it looks unappetizing. A good test for appetizing if you are unsure, is to look at your photo and say to yourself, “Does this dish look delicious to me? Would I dig into it?” If the answer is no, then you need to scrap that photo and do it again. And maybe you’ll have to redo the recipe. I’ve had to redo recipes quite a few times. It’s the price you pay to get it right.

My photo provides an alternative way to present the Macaroni al Pesto. I have mixed the pesto in with Ditalini and provided the reader with a bowl of the pesto sauce on the side for reference. In this way, you can see the pesto on the macaroni though it is a little light but the bowl of pesto sauce on the side clues the reader in that the macaroni has pesto sauce on it.

Feel free to be creative with the presentation as well. As you can see, I sprinkled some of the parmesan cheese I used for the pesto and added some basil leaves on top to accent the color green.

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Recipe Name
Macaroni al Pesto
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