Monday, 24 March 2014

Spring Vegetable Pasta Gratin

Pasta al gratin primavera

I often have odd vegetables lurking in the bottom of my fridge. By odd, I don't mean peculiar or rudely shaped, I just mean that I end up with a variety of different vegetables, but only small amounts of each. In an effort to reduce my food waste, I try to create delicious meals that use up these forlorn perishables.

This gratin worked really well and not only allowed me to use up all the vegetables in my fridge, but I even managed to finish some double cream that had been getting perilously near its use-by date as well. It's a lovely dish for spring, with the fresh, multi-coloured vegetables providing a soft contrast to the golden topping.

I'm sending this over to Chris at Cooking Around the World, who is hosting the No Waste Food Challenge this month on behalf of Elizabeth, of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.

No Waste Food Challenge

RECIPE - serves 4 

320g pasta (any 'short' pasta will do, I've used penne but shells would be good too)
1 carrot
1 courgette
1 leek
100g lettuce
100g cabbage
1 tablespoon vegetable stock
20g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
150 ml double cream
100 ml milk
140g fresh Parmesan, grated
handful of chives, chopped

Wash all the vegetables thoroughly. Dice the carrot and courgette, slice the leek, lettuce and cabbage. Heat the butter and olive oil in a frying pan and cook all the vegetables for a few minutes until beginning to soften. Add the vegetable stock, and salt and pepper to taste and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, adding the chopped chives at the end.

Heat the cream and milk in a pan for a few minutes to thicken slightly, then add 100g of the grated Parmesan, salt and pepper. 

In the meantime, cook the pasta in lots of boiling salted water until just al dente. Drain it well and mix with the vegetables. In a greased ovenproof dish, alternate layers of the pasta and vegetables with the creamy sauce and the rest of the Parmesan, finishing with a generous sprinkling of the cheese. 

Put in a pre-heated hot oven (180°C) for 10 mins, then increase the heat to 240°C for a further 10 mins. When it's ready it should be golden, crispy and bubbling. 

Vegetable Pasta Gratin

Monday, 10 March 2014


Ecstatic is not too strong a word to describe how I felt when I was told that I had the opportunity to taste and review the new Carte Noire Espresso Collection for Nespresso* machines. And the feeling only intensified over the following days when I received the exciting collection and started to sample the coffee (although the vast quantities of caffeine surging through my veins may have had something to do with this). As well as the four boxes of espresso capsules, the beautiful black box also contained glossy tasting notes and two Bodum espresso glasses (seen in the photos), cleverly designed to insulate the coffee, keeping it hot.

Carte Noire for Nespresso

The number one French coffee brand Carte Noire has always been firmly positioned at the luxury end of the market and its latest foray into espresso capsules for Nespresso machines can only consolidate its place. The new range features four distinct flavours, each with its own special character and intensity; the higher the number, the higher the intensity. They are available to buy in supermarkets with an RRP of £2.79 for a box of ten. 

I am an unashamed coffee drinker and espresso is always my coffee of choice so I thoroughly enjoyed my tasting session. GL, another espresso lover, tasted with me and I also involved my parents, as they have been Nespresso users for a number of years now. We did not do a blind tasting as we wanted to make sure that we started with the most delicate and ended with the most intense. Once the espresso was made, we sniffed, to detect the aroma, then we slurped and savoured. All the coffee was drunk unadulterated, without any sugar or milk so as not to affect the flavours.

Below are my tasting notes and comments about each espresso, followed by the official descriptions from Carte Noire, in italics. We decided not to read their notes until after we had done our tasting. At the end, you can also find two recipes I developed using this range. The first is a coffee and dark chocolate semi-freddo and the second, an iced tiramisu that can be served either as a dessert or as a refreshing summer drink. 

Carte Noire Espresso Tasting

The first thing I noticed is that each capsule is individually wrapped. The reason for this becomes clear as soon as you open the packet and you get a hit of intense ground coffee aromas. With other capsules, this does not happen and I think it makes a huge difference to the whole experience. The aromas set your taste buds tingling and fill the kitchen with that unmistakable just-ground coffee smell. 

The second thing to note is how easy it is to use the capsules. Just pop one in the machine, press the button and voila, a perfect espresso every time. The entire range uses only pure Arabica coffee and all flavours produced espresso with good body and substance and an excellent thick crema which can be seen in the photos.

Carte Noire Espresso

  • N°3 Élégant: Smooth and mellow, but nicely full-bodied, we all agreed that this would be an ideal early morning coffee. My dad in particular really enjoyed this one.                                               "... is a delicate, light and velvety coffee, with a warm touch of biscuity notes. With an enticing aroma of ripening corn, this full-bodied coffee is smooth, balanced and satisfying. A no nonsense 'easy to drink' coffee"   
  •  N°5 Délicat: This one had a wonderful aroma, rich and slightly fruity. The taste was quite unusual  with a slight acidity that we all enjoyed. My dad also detected a hint of smokiness in the taste. This coffee could easily be drunk throughout the day. This is the coffee I used in the iced tiramisu as the delicate flavour doesn't overpower the creamy vanilla taste.                                                                 "Lively, zesty and tangy, this coffee has a delicate wine like acidity that seduces and delights the palate. Enjoy a refreshing, mild and delicate espresso with a seamless blend of mellow lemon acidity"

  • N°7 Aromatique: This smelt rich and enticing and had a slightly darker colour than the first two. My mum used the adjective 'nutty' to describe the taste and was very pleased to see it described as such in the official tasting notes! I thought there was a hint of chocolate in it too. This was GL's favourite and came a close second for me. It's perfect after lunch or as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. I also chose this one to use in my semi-freddo.                                                                                           "This blend has true character; rich, complex and earthy, with delicate nutty and caramel undertones. With a deep flavour delivery, this is a pleasurable and pleasing strong full bodied espresso"

  •   N°9 Intense: A rich, intense aroma could be detected as soon as this espresso had been made. This was full-flavoured and strong but without any bitterness. It was also the coffee that elicited the most description from everyone, with words like woody (mum), smoky (me) and tobacco (GL), all flavours mentioned in the Carte Noire notes. Dad decided on 'strong but smooth'. This was the favourite for both mum and I and is ideal as an after-dinner coffee although personally, I've been enjoying it throughout the day since I got it.                                                                                             "Flamboyant, with an abundance of strong, full flavours, this is an opulent coffee. Rich in 'cigar box' flavours such as smoke, wood and tobacco, this coffee is bold, stimulating and aromatic." 

Overall rating
I was extremely impressed with all the varieties in this collection and I will certainly purchase them in the future as I thought that the coffee flavours and aromas were superior to the capsules I usually use in my Nespresso machine. So watch out George, you've got competition.

RECIPE - Semifreddo al Caffé/Coffee Semi-freddo with Dark Chocolate Chunks

Coffee Semi-Freddo

I decided to use N°7 Aromatique for this recipe as the chocolate/cocoa tones of the coffee work perfectly with the dark chocolate. It's a wonderful dessert, creamy and rich but surprisingly light at the same time. The chocolate adds another dimension, providing a welcome crunch to the smooth iced cream. It is ideal to make when you've got people for dinner as it can be completely made in advance, then just left in the freezer until you want to serve it. It's also really easy to make, you just need a lot of bowls! I actually like it really frozen but most people suggest leaving a semi-freddo out for about 10 minutes before eating so that it softens slightly. 

2 eggs
40g caster sugar
1 Carte Noire espresso (40ml), cooled
250ml double cream
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
170g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Serves about 5 -6 people.

Separate the eggs and beat the yolks and half the sugar using an electric whisk until thick and pale yellow (about 5 mins). Gently fold in the espresso and vanilla extract.

In another bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks.

In yet another bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until the soft peak stage, then add the rest of the caster sugar gradually, still whisking (like a meringue) until it is stiff and glossy.

Fold the whipped cream into the yolk mixture and then add the chopped chocolate. Finally, fold in the egg whites very gently.

Pour the mixture into a serving dish. You can use whatever you want really but I like to use a loaf tin, lined with clingfilm as you can then remove it easily from the tin when frozen and serve it in slices. 

Freeze overnight. To serve, remove from the tin, allow to thaw slightly (although see note above) and slice. I love it as it is but you could serve it with some thin, crisp biscuits and even a chocolate sauce if you wish.

RECIPE - Iced Tiramisu

This is incredibly simple, the work of minutes, and yet it works perfectly and does have the taste of a tiramisu (with far less effort). You really do need great coffee to start with though - I used  Carte Noire N°5 Délicat which was perfect. 

Serves 1-2

1 generous scoop of good quality vanilla or stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate chips) ice-cream
1 Carte Noire espresso, cooled
1 teaspoon brandy (optional)
Savoiardi (ladyfinger) biscuits to serve
Grated chocolate (optional)

Pour the espresso and brandy (if using) over the ice-cream and blend until smooth. Pour into pretty glasses, scatter with the grated chocolate (I didn't for the ones in the photo as I had used stracciatella ice-cream which includes the chocolate element already) and serve with the biscuit for dipping. 

This is a sponsored post - Leeks and Limoni was sent the espresso capsules free of charge to sample and review. All views and opinions are my own.

This post is an entry in the Foodies100 Espresso Collective Challenge, sponsored by Carte Noire. Each box of Carte Noire Espresso capsules contain 10 single servings and are available in supermarkets at an RRP of £2.79 and are available in four intensities. To find out more about the new Carte Noire Collection Espresso click here 

*Nespresso® is a registered trademark of a third party without any link with Mondelez International group. Compatible with all Nespresso®* machines bought before July 1, 2013. After that date, compatible with most Nespresso®* machines bought. For additional information regarding compatibility, please see UK:

Monday, 3 March 2014

Tortelli di Carnevale - Carnival Doughnuts

Tortelli di Carnevale

Preparations for lent in Italy last much longer than the one day we have here in the UK when we eat pancakes. Italian festivities include parades and parties as well as sweet treats. The most popular Italian destination for Carnival is undoubtedly Venice for the lavish costumes and masks worn at this time. Yet almost all towns and cities in Italy have their own carnevale, with parades and floats, masks and fancy dress. Most of these take place during the weekend before Shrove Tuesday although in Milan and surrounding areas, the celebrations carry on up until the following Saturday. 

Like many other countries, the local specialities at this time of year are based around eggs/milk/butter/sugar. Exact recipes differ from town to town, and take various forms and names although the unifying characteristic is that they are fried. The little doughnuts here are from the Milan area and are surprisingly light, with a fluffy centre. If you want to be really indulgent, you can fill them with crème pâtissière which is how I used to buy them from my favourite pasticceria.

As these are made completely from scratch, I'm sending this over to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge, Made with Love Mondays.



50g butter
50g caster sugar
125ml milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
150g self raising flour
4 eggs + 1 egg yolk

sunflower oil for frying
caster sugar for dredging

Put the butter, caster sugar, milk, vanilla and lemon zest in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.

When it has reached boiling point, remove from the heat and add the sifted flour. Mix well until it forms a ball. Put this back on the heat for a minute or two, until you see a thin white coating on the bottom of the pan.

Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Leave to cool for about 20 minutes.

When it has cooled, start adding the eggs and extra yolk. Mix them in one at a time, beating vigorously - make sure that each egg is thoroughly absorbed before adding the next. The batter should not be too thin at the end.

When you're ready to make the fritters, fill a high-sided pan about half full of oil and heat until a drop of batter sizzles when dropped in - it should be about 170º-180ºC, hot but not boiling.

Fry rounded teaspoons of batter, making sure you don't overcrowd the pan, about 5 at a time is ideal. Quickly flip them over when they are golden brown and leave them to cook for a minute on the other side.

Take them out carefully with a slotted spoon and place on some kitchen towel to absorb some of the grease. Serve straightaway, with caster sugar sprinkled liberally over. 

Carnival Doughnuts

Friday, 28 February 2014

Anglesey Eggs - Ŵyau Ynys Môn

Anglesey Eggs

I think it's fair to say that Welsh cuisine does not play a prominent role on the world's culinary stage. However, Wales does now take pride in supplying some fine produce, enjoying international recognition for its beef and lamb, fresh fish and seafood and some unique cheeses. There is an increasing number of chefs in Wales eager to make full use of local foods, made and supplied by artisan food producers and traditional dishes are slowly finding themselves back in the limelight.

This then is my St. David's Day contribution to the Welsh culinary revival. Traditional to Anglesey, this delicious dish of potatoes, leeks, eggs and cheese reflects a time when meat was a scarce luxury, like the other more well-known recipes for Glamorgan sausages and Welsh rarebit. I like to think I haven't strayed too far from how my ancestors would have made it; the leeks and potatoes came from ten miles away, the eggs from a local farm and the cheese... well, the cheese is Caerphilly so it admittedly had a slightly longer journey. 

As I'm sending this to the Shop Local challenge, created and hosted by Elizabeth from Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary, I would like to mention the Llainwen eggs I used in this dish. These beautiful free range eggs have a deep orange yolk that I haven't found anywhere else. The farm, situated in the Vale of Clwyd, has been in the family since 1739 and all their eggs come from a variety of traditional breed hens who happily roam around the fields, truly free-range. Visitors are always welcome on the farm, to see first-hand how the hens are looked after. As you can see from the photos, you get seven, multi-hued eggs in every gorgeous box. 

RECIPE - Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

300g potatoes
3 leeks
oil (olive/sunflower/vegetable)
3 eggs
300ml milk
20g butter
20g plain flour
50g Caerphilly cheese, grated
salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water for about 15-20 minutes, until soft. 

In the meantime, prepare the leeks by slicing them in half length ways and then chopping them finely. Put them in a colander and wash thoroughly under running water. Drain well. Heat a drizzle of oil in a large frying pan, add the leeks and cook gently until softened, being careful not to colour them as leeks can turn very bitter if they start to brown. 

Hard boil the eggs, drain and remove the shells when they're cool enough to handle.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. 

Drain and mash the potatoes, then mix with the softened leeks and season to taste with salt and black pepper. 

To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes, then off the heat, slowly add the milk, whisking continuously. When all the milk has been added, bring slowly to the boil and keep whisking over a medium heat until thickened and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in half the cheese. 

Slice the eggs in quarters and arrange in an ovenproof dish (or use individual dishes as I have done in the photo). Spoon the potato and leek mixture around the eggs and pour the cheese sauce over the top. Sprinkle over the remaining grated cheese. 

This can all be prepared in advance and left in the fridge until you want to cook it.

Cook in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown. 

Ŵyau Ynys Môn

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Tagliatelle with Leeks and Sausage - Tagliatelle con Porri e Salsiccia

Leek and Sausage Tagliatelle

This is one of those great Italian dishes that manages to transform a few humble ingredients into a deliciously satisfying dinner. Apart from the pasta, there are just two main elements, sausages and leeks. Add some garlic and seasoning and a glug or two of olive oil and that's it basically. It's simple, delicious and has universal appeal which makes it perfect for a family meal. It's also pleasingly frugal - one regular sized pack of sausages, along with a few leeks, makes enough pasta for four generous adult servings.

I'm pleased to be able to enter this in Camilla (Fab Food 4 All) and Helen's (Fuss Free Flavours) Credit Crunch Munch challenge, hosted this month by Angela at My Golden Pear.


As this recipe nicely used up my glut of leeks, (grown about 10 miles from my house) I'm also sending it over to Fiona of London Unattached who is hosting the No Waste Food Challenge this month on behalf of Elizabeth, of Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.

No Waste Food Challenge

Leeks are at their best at this time of year so I'm sending this over to Ren for her Simple and in Season challenge.

Simple and in Season


2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 leeks
1 clove garlic
375g good quality pork chipolata sausages
half a glass white wine
400g tagliatelle or pappardelle

Start by preparing the leeks and sausages. As leeks can be very dirty, I usually slice them in half length ways and then chop them finely. Put them in a colander and wash thoroughly under running water. Drain well. 

For the sausages, remove the skins, break off small amounts of sausage mixture and form into small balls. 

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the leeks and cook gently until softened, being careful not to colour them as leeks can turn very bitter if they start to brown. Add the crushed garlic and continue cooking for a minute or two.

Remove the leeks to a plate and add the sausage meatballs to the pan. You don't need to add any extra oil at this point, there will be enough left over from the leeks. Cook for a few minutes over a medium heat until the meatballs are lightly browned all over. Add the leeks to the sausage meatballs in the pan and pour over the wine. Stir everything together and check the seasoning. I usually add a lot of freshly ground pepper as I think it goes really well with leeks.  Continue cooking for about 5 minutes or so until most of the wine has evaporated and the sausages are cooked through.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in a large pan of salted water, as per packet instructions. Near the end of the cooking, take a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and add to the leeks and sausage mixture if you think it looks slightly dry. When the pasta is al dente, drain well and mix with the leeks and sausages. Serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan. 

Tagliatelle con salsiccia e porri

Friday, 14 February 2014

Hazelnut and Chocolate Shortbread Biscuits

Hazelnut and Chocolate Biscuits

I'm quite a romantic person - I love walking hand in hand along the beach on a balmy, moonlit evening; I nearly always light candles for the dinner table; roses and chocolates are, without fail, enthusiastically received and I'm always pathetically happy when Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy finally get together in the end.

Despite all this however, Valentine's day just doesn't really do it for me. I think it's a combination of the aggressive commercialisation coupled with the forced romance of the day itself. Surely, true romance is a spontaneous thing. I certainly know that when I think of romantic moments in my life, it's the unexpected gestures that come to mind - GL battling through snowdrifts and thorny bushes just to rescue my ski glove that had fallen from the chair lift we had been on (he came back bloodied and bruised but holding the glove triumphantly aloft); getting back from work and finding my room filled with hundreds of daffodils; GL carrying a big, old, heavy television up six flights of stairs (no lift) so that I had something to watch when I was ill.

That said, I don't hate the day and I have to admit to having a weakness for heart-shaped biscuits and chocolates. These ones are chocolatey, light and crisp, with a hint of hazelnut in the background. I had intended to sandwich them with nutella but actually, they are perfect just as they are.

There are several challenges this month that I'm sending this over to.

These definitely fit into the general love theme for February, so I'm sending this off to Dolly Bakes  (this month's host) and LauraLovesCakes for her Calendar Cakes - Oh L'amour.

Tea Time Treats Lavender and Lovage

The theme for this month's Tea Time Treats is chocolate; the challenge is hosted by Karen (this month's host) at Lavender and Lovage and Janie at The Hedgecombers.

I am also submitting these to Lets Cook Sweet Treats for Valentine with Nayna over at Simply Food.

Four Seasons Food Winter
As GL was the main lucky recipient of these, I am also entering it into the Four Seasons Food challenge with Anneli Delicieux (this month's host) and Louisa at Eat Your Veg. The theme this month is Food From The Heart.


35g blanched hazelnuts
165g butter, room temperature (I use salted but you can use unsalted if you prefer)
110g caster sugar
180g plain flour
20g cocoa
half teaspoon of vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C

Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 8 minutes (use the timer!) and allow to cool. Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

Either by hand or in a mixer, mix the butter, sugar and vanilla until combined. Sift the flour and cocoa together and then add to the butter mixture. Finally add the ground hazelnuts and mix until the dough comes together. Shape into a rough disk, wrap in clingfilm and chill for about 30 minutes. 

Flour a work surface and roll the dough thinly. Cut out the biscuits with whatever cutter you prefer, then place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. 

Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes (depending on the thickness of the biscuits) and then move to a wire rack to cool.

Gianduia Shortbread Biscuits

Monday, 10 February 2014

Mini Vanilla Bundts

Mini Vanilla Bundts

I never intended buying any Bundt cake tins, mini or otherwise. Yet I came across one on offer in a shop and frankly couldn't resist, even though the cupboards in my small kitchen are already full to maximum capacity. It has got to the point where I carefully balance pans and trays on the top of the smallest stack I can see and then shut the doors as quickly as possible so that the contents don't come crashing out all over the floor.

Anyway, these were worth it. The cakes were moist and springy inside but with a slightly crisp exterior and the miniature size makes them perfect for individual treats for loved ones.

I'm entering these into a lovely new challenge (for me), Treat Petite, where you can send in any recipe as long as it's mini! A great idea and I look forward to seeing this month's entries for 'Loved Ones'. The challenge creators are Cakeyboi, this month's host and The Baking Explorer.

I'm also sending this over to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge which encourages everyone to cook from scratch, Made with Love Mondays.



150g plain flour
quarter teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
125g caster sugar
pinch of salt if not using salted butter
80g butter, melted
120ml sour cream
2 eggs
2 teaspoons good vanilla extract or paste

200g icing sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C

1 mini-Bundt pan, well greased

Start by sifting the flour and bicarb of soda into a bowl. Add the sugar and salt if using and mix. 

In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (melted butter, eggs, sour cream and vanilla). Gently fold in the flour mixture until combined. 

Scoop the mixture in to the Bundt moulds and bake for about 25 mins. 

Remove from the oven. Leave the cakes to cool for about 5 mins before turning them carefully out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the top, I just made a very simple water icing with icing sugar and warm water but you can use some vanilla in this if you want to add more flavour.

Vanilla Bundts