Okay, I admit that I play with my food. I love compositions and juxtapositions on multiple levels — color, taste, texture, size, cut and so on – with intuitive, spontaneous, of-the-moment combinations of ingredients on hand. Summer’s bounty provides a wide palette, a basketful of opportunities to compose. There are amazing chefs throughout the world who’ve made their reputations on this technique (think of Michael Bras and his signature salad of micro greens, mini veggies and flowers). I love that stuff but I’m usually feeding a different crowd and have more limited means. I can be artful but informal enough to avoid the look I call “contrived casual.” (Since my photos are taken quickly, full frame and with available light, they definitely are casual and immediate. Like the food. Always room for improvement if I would take the time.)
On Saturday mornings, I go to our CSA farm to pick up the week’s allotment and frequent the local farmers and farmers’ markets. Some produce gets bagged and refrigerated pronto but inevitably, I have little still life compositions of flowers and fruit and vegetables all over the house, at least for a day or two. That’s the inspiration for cooking with color. Sometimes, I find myself combining colorful combinations: green broccoli with yellow squash, purple onions and red peppers. Or yellow peppers, green and white cucumbers, and dark red beets. Here, however, two days in a row, I had the inclination to stay within a color palette.
First I composed young “blue” potatoes and dark red beets, each cut similarly, steamed, dressed lightly in olive oil and homemade tarragon vinegar, and sprinkled with tarragon leaves. Then delicious sweet yellow-orange cherry tomatoes halves, combined with tiny cubes of mozzarella, dressed in olive oil and salt, and garnished with the diminutive leaves of spicy globe basil and (yes they’re edible) calendula flowers. Both dishes were pretty and despite the similar colors, the ingredients had a contrasting burst of taste that was good, very very good.