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