Leeks, glorious leeks!

Leeks are in season right now and if you grow your own, I need not to tell you that they are just like asparagus, best when they are young and do little to them, braise them in wine for instance or pan-fry them with a little olive oil.

Larger leeks are slightly tougher and they need more time to soften, braising again is a good method of preparation.   Below is a nice recipe from Jane Grigson’s great Vegetable Book, for a very simple Leek Pie.

Flemish Leek Pie


125 g butter

1 medium onion

375 g leeks, sliced

125 g double cream

1 tsp plain flour

salt and pepper to taste

500 g puff pastry

1 egg, beaten

In half the butter, cook the onion slowly to soften, add the rest of the butter and put in the leeks.  Cover the pan and leave the vegetables to cook for 5 minutes.  If there is much liquid left, raise the heat to evaporate, making sure the vegetables do not brown or burn!

Beat the cream into the flour to make a smooth paste and stir it into the leeks.  Cook for one minute, then remove from the heat, season and cool down.

Roll out the pastry and cut two large circles, one slightly bigger than the other.  Put the smallr of the two on a moistened baking sheet.  Spread the leek filling in the middle, leaving a 2 cm rim.  Brush the rim with egg.  Place the larger circle over the top.  Press the edges firmly together and twist to seal.  Make a hole in the centre of the lid and score the pastry lightly with the tip of a knife.  Brush with the beaten egg and bake for 15 minutes at 220 C / Gas Mark 7, then lower to 180 C / Gas mark 4 and continue baking for 20 minutes.

If you have a wet filling or if you are unsure about baking a flat pie, you can always fit in a cake or flan tin 22-23 cm in diameter.

Something delicious to do with Cavolo Nero

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Here is another good recipe for cabbage cooking, today it is the turn of delicious Cavolo Nero, which is not only abundant, but especially tasty, because this nice brassica, improves its flavour with a good frost!

Celery is in season as well in January/February, so it is good to try these two vegetables in this dish.

Braised celery, red onions and Cavolo Nero

Serves 4

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large red onion

½ head celery

500 g curly kale or cavolo nero or any other beautiful seasonal cabbage or spring greens

50 ml olive oil

50 ml water

a good measure of vermouth about 50 ml.

the zest of a lemon

salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp parmesan (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 180 C

Cut the onion into wedges

Trim the celery and slice in a diagonal, 1 inch slices are nice

Trim and wash the kale, reserve

In a large pan, heat up 1 Tbsp of olive oil and sauté the onion for one minute; add some of the greens and sauté for another minute.  Transfer to a baking tray and mix well with the celery and the rest of the greens.

Mix the oil and water with the vermouth and pour this mix onto the vegetables, mix to coat well, season with salt and pepper and cover tightly with foil.  Put in the oven and leave to braise until the vegetables are soft.  This can take about 30 minutes.  If you want to make this dish in advance, cook until the vegetables start to look cooked but they still feel al dente, later on you can put back in the oven and continue cooking until they are soft; this last process can last about 8 minutes. Once ready, mix with the lemon zest.

Serve on a dish and decorate with some shaved or grated parmesan and eat immediately.

Seville Orange Marmalade / Mermelada de Naranjas de Sevilla

For those who happen to live on northern latitudes, January can be seen as a bleak month, when after all the jolly of Christmas, we are left over with extra pounds of belly fat, with short days that seem to take an eternity to become longer and with a desire for something exciting and new to happen.

The appearance of Seville or bitter oranges (citrus auriantium) at fruit stalls and markets certainly is no cure for winter nostalgia, but it can be seen as some kind of first aid: their bits of green/yellow and orange colour, provided by these fruits can be added to our seasonal cooking palette.  These fruits become like the first rays of sunshine, coming to our rescue from those winter blues.

And rescue they do.  Seville oranges are only available for roughly a period of six weeks from early to mid January and they are used mainly for making marmalade because they have a high pectin content and also because they are very sour and bitter as a fruit.

Gorgeous it is to see these oranges at the shops and glorious is the smell they produce when they are turned into conserve.   To make a large batch of marmalade every January not only gives you enough stock to spread on your toast for the rest of the year, it also gives you a sense of seasonality.

It is fun to turn the kitchen into a production line, invite friends and family and make large batches of marmalade, you can achieve a lot by sharing jobs and have a great time during the process.

So when you see Seville oranges at the shops buy loads, don’t eat them as a fruit, instead turn them into marmalade.  This in time will become something that will make you appreciate January.

Recipe for Seville Orange Marmalade

This recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander’s cooking bible: The cook’s companion

Makes 1.5 – 1.8 litres

1 kg Seville oranges

3 large lemons

2 litres water

2 kg sugar

old jam jars and lids


Begin by peeling the rind of the oranges and lemons using a potato peeler, then cut into long strips or julienne.  Juice the fruits and reserve the pith and seeds –this is important, the seeds are full of pectin that you will need later on.  Place these inside a muslin bag or cloth and tie well.  Put the juice, muslin bag, water and zest into a non-reactive saucepan [stainless steel] and bring to the boil;  as soon as this happens, reduce to a very gentle simmer, partially cover the pan with a lid and cook for one hour, stirring from time to time.  You want to reduce the liquid to about half of its original volume.  Take off the heat and leave covered overnight.

The day after, begin by squeezing the muslin bag very well of any liquid/pectin, remember any pectin is valuable, so you want to really squeeze as much liquid as possible from the bag.

Add the sugar to the citrus mix and stir well, heat up gently, stirring all the time, up to boiling point.   Once it begins to boil, stop stirring and leave to bubble for about 7 minutes or until it comes to setting point.  Test for setting using a thermometer, it should reach 104 C, if you don’t have a thermometer, just place a blob of marmalade on a cold plate and leave for a couple of minutes, push your finger into the marmalade, it should separate in two halves; this is setting point.  If this does not happen, continue boiling for a bit longer and test until you are able to do so.

Sterilise your glass jars: Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water and rinse well in hot water.  Submerge  into a large pan full of boiling water for 10 minutes, carefully take out of the bath and place upside-down over a clean tea-towel to drain.  Dry well by putting them inside an oven at 150 C.  Take out of the oven and avoid touching the insides of the jars and lids.  While these are still hot, fill them with hot marmalade and then screw on the  lids.  Do this with care.

Leave them to cool down, a vacuum should be created, you can tell this by feeling the concave shape of the lids when they are cold.  Label and date the jars… when you open a jar in July and see the date, you will remember the day you made this!