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Lovely Layering Heightens Everyday Plates

Open any food magazine and what do you see? Photos – beautiful ones – leading us to believe that what looks delectable on the page could look the same on our real-time plates.

Food photography is an art. But since human hands arrange the food on a plate for a shoot, isn’t it reasonable that you could do the same at home? Thanks to a tool the pros use for piling plates with beauty, you can: layering.

Why layer?

Whether combining different paints on a wall, drapes on a window or even jewelry over our clothes, we’re using the artistic tool of layering to add color and texture to our world. That same tool helps create eye-popping plates of food.

Layering takes the separate elements of what you’re serving and make them work as one. For example, viewing its layered ingredients makes even a grilled chicken sandwich more than a singular object slapped on a plate. That’s because it becomes eye candy when you lean the top piece of bread to one side revealing the grill marks of the chicken, the texture of the sprouts, or the vibrancy of the barbecue sauce beneath. With a green pillow of lettuces beside it, lunch goes from boring to beautiful ... and it all started with an off-kilter slice of bread.

Learn to play with your food.

Good presentation means thinking about how to serve it before the food ever hits the plate. We’ve mentioned how to re-think sandwiches, and everyone knows sauce goes on ice cream and ice cream goes on pie; but from soups and stews to pastas and entrees, layering ingredients just so is a thoughtful way to turn plates from sleepy to spectacular.

Invigorate veggies.

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  • If you’ve made a medley of roasted or grilled vegetables or a dish like ratatouille, place similar-colored vegetables like potatoes, parsnips or zucchini on the bottom and brighter carrots, red peppers and squash on top. The bold color difference will pop on the plate.

Pretty pastas.

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  • Make pasta less one-dimensionable by layering about a cup of long, swirly cuts like spaghetti, fettuccini or tagliatelle – already lightly combined with any of Bertolli’s ready-made sauces – on the center of your plate. Make that layer slightly flat before spooning additional sauce over the middle. Add a final touch of fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley or basil.
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  • Serving a short cut? Use a shallow bowl instead of a plate. Since short cuts won’t allow pooled sauce to stay put in the middle, combine with the sauce first before plating and instead of adding more sauce, layer with grated cheese, fresh herbs, or even a few grissini (long, skinny Italian breadsticks) poking out from the sides. The subtle drama will surprise you.
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  • Don’t forget: If you’re serving meatballs, sausage or grilled portabello mushrooms with your pasta, odd numbers are always more elegant in appearance.

Elegant entrees.

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  • Remember this when plating your protein, starch and vegetable: Don’t crowd the plate. With several items competing for space, “think up” as you layer. If sautéed greens are on the menu, make a bed of them on one third of the plate and place broiled salmon or chicken on top and your starch beside it. If you’re serving beef tenderloin or pork, pool a little of the sauce or gravy beneath the meat and drizzle a little on top, too, maybe finishing with a few crumbles of gorgonzola cheese.

Food is more than how it tastes. Mix and match these tricks with your recipe repertoire and you’ll be surprised by how much more (visually) rewarding your dinners will be.