Where does inspiration come from? Sometimes from dinner.

Food Photography Gnocchi Pomodoro

Can dinner give you a creative kick in the pants?

In the winter, after business has slowed, and when the weather is crappy many of us tend to get in a creative funk (as noted eloquently a couple of years ago by Photographer Zack Arias).  Inspiration seems hard to find in the dull rainy days of  January.  My summer work is long gone, my winter ski photography season is not up to speed, and I have a lot of time to sit around the office, and worry about how I’m not getting anything productive done .

Last year was better, the Winter Olympics were here, and there was lots of cool and interesting work for an architectural photographer.  This year, not so much.  I have been spending my time working on a website re-vamp, organizing photo archives, getting offended over taxes and budgets, but not shooting, or doing anything else creative really.

But this isn’t really a post about photography.  Today I’m just talking about inspiration.

I was driving home from approving some test prints from “the LAB” in Vancouver, thinking about how miserable the weather was and listening to the CBC.  About half way home a documentary piece came on the radio.  It was about the origin of pasta in Italy, recordings of Italian Mamas talking about making pasta by hand, and making fun of North American macaroni and cheese.  They were talking about making sauces, and using a few simple ingredients to create the best meals.  I’m a huge pasta fan, and soon my mouth was watering.

It reminded me of when I was in Italy a few years ago, and I had quite possibly the best restaurant meal of my life, home made Gnocchi Pomodoro.  It was simple, elegant, and delicious.  I was in a tiny restaurant, which in all fairness was actually just over the border in the Italian part of Switzerland, in a place called San Nazzaro.  This part of Switzerland pretty much is Italy, but with better chocolate for desert.  I was in a tiny, quaint little restaurant they call a “Grotto”.  The place literally had 4 tables for two, that’s it.  It was like eating in someones living room, and the service was as if they had known you forever too.

Back to reality, I was driving a curvy mountain road in the sleet, slush and snow.  But I was inspired now, I wanted that meal again. I wanted that delicious hand made experience. I wanted some Gnocchi Pomodoro!  I have never made gnocchi pomodoro, but that wasn’t going to stop me now. I pulled into the grocery store on the way home and picked up some roma tomatoes, some herbs ans spices, an onion, and some fresh but packaged gnocchi (best I could do on short notice).  By this time I was excited, I skimmed some recipes on the interweb, and got to work.

I grilled the tomatoes, chopped the spices, boiled the pasta, and assembled a very respectable and yummy replica of my great Italian meal.  I queued up an episode of Mad Men (which inspires me in many ways) and felt the need to enjoy my gnocchi with a cocktail.  It was awesome.

Here’s the lesson I learned:  Inspiration is everywhere.  If you are focusing too hard on trying to come up with inspiration for photography (or web design, or video, or story ideas, or anything)  you can easily miss everything else that is going on.  I didn’t wake up and plan to get excited about making dinner, but it happened when I least expected it.  Today someone else’s inspiration (to produce a radio piece about pasta) inspired me to try something new, and now I will apply my new experience to what I do in the future.  If you drink in the experience and passion of others, and combine it with your own you can find inspiration anywhere, even in your dinner.

Once I started cooking, my internal photographer took over, and so I have images to share.

Here is my un-authentic, but quite good recipe for…

Rustic Gnocchi Pomodoro (feeds 2)


  • 6 – palm sized roma tomatoes
  • 1 – small onion
  • some – mushrooms (I used white button shrooms, but get creative)
  • Basil, Oregano, Parsley – put in what you like, I like lots
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Gnocchi (I used a package of soft fresh gnocchi I got form the grocery store, or if you are really inspired, make your own!)


  1. Slice the 6 tomatoes in half and place them on a cooking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with Olive oil, and bake in the oven at 375° for about 40 minutes.  If you find tomato seeds too bitter, take the seeds out before roasting.
  2. Finely chop the onions and sweat them in a pan until they are clear
  3. Finely chop the mushrooms and add them when the onions are ready (I like to add a bit of wine to de-glaze the pan, and cover to soften the onions and shrooms)
  4. When your tomatoes are ready, put a pot of water on for the gnocchi, add a small handful of sea salt to the water.
  5. Take the tomatoes out of the oven and carefully peel off the skins, they should come off quite easily. (careful, they’re hot!)
  6. Add the tomatoes and some chopped herbs, and a dash of salt and pepper to the onions and mushrooms, smash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and simmer.
  7. When you water is boiling, add the gnocchi, when it floats, it is ready
  8. Strain the gnocchi and add to the pot of sauce, and stir.
  9. Serve hot with some grated parm, or pecorino cheese, and some snippings of basil.
  10. Enjoy with your favourite person, or beverage… or both!