An Italian Feast prepared by Master Chef Axel Begner and me

by Michelle

Master Chef Axel Begner, co-owner of Opera Bistro, invited me to cook with him for this year’s fund-raising event in support of the Saint John Boys and Girls Club. He asked me to create the menu which we would then we cook together. On Sunday morning, I arrived with a big bowl of bread dough, a fresh batch of ricotta, strawberry rhubarb marmalatta and a big smile. I couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen with Axel.

A cheesecloth lined sieve for the fresh ricotta to drain in.

Fresh ricotta draining

We served a strawberry rhubarb marmalatta spiked with balsamic vinegar with our cheese course.

Axel is preparing a local leg of lamb so that it is ready to be stuffed.

The zucchini required half an hour of drying time to ensure that they would be crispy when fried.

Fennel is one of my favorite vegetables so I often include it as part of my antipasti di verdure. You can see my big bread bowl in the background.

Axel was surprised to learn how much Italians love fresh mint especially with zucchini.

The fennel requires time and space to braise properly.

I loved being in a professional kitchen again.

The fennel becomes a little caramelized when the braising is finished.

We used fresh rosemary, mint, Italian parsley and pecorino to enhance our breadcrumbs for the stuffed peppers and for the roast lamb.

I chose yellow bell peppers to contrast with the baked red tomatoes on the antipasti table.

By the time I was ready to stuff the lamb, some of our guests had arrived.

Everyone was surprised that I was using anchovies as part of my stuffing. Anchovies heighten the flavour of the lamb.

Me being goofy as I wait for the string to tie up the lamb.

Axel’s electric pasta machine konked out half way through making the pasta so he finished it by hand. I learned some German swear words!

The tomatoes were stuffed with garlic slivers and fresh thyme.

As we waited for all of our guests, we served Prosecco and roasted hazelnuts tossed in olive oil. fresh thyme leaves and sea salt.

Axel surprised our guests with an impromptu fresh morel sauce for the lamb. I wanted to dive into the skillet.

The pasta course was a fresh fettuccine tossed in pesto and hand crushed grape tomatoes.

Folding spinach into the balsamella.

The sformata was delicious…cream, eggs, cheese and spinach…so good!

I had wanted to serve sweetbreads with the sformata di spinaci but there were none to be found. We substituted shrimp which worked beautifully.

The lamb was stuffed with artichokes, anchovies, pecorino, fresh herbs and breadcrumbs.

It’s important to control portion size when you are serving many courses. We served the tiramisu in espresso cups. It was perfect!

A very happy group.

We had a wonderful day.

Thanks for reading.