Stuffed Chicken Breasts

The biggest challenge here is making the chicken breast thin enough to roll.  It needs to be thin in order to cook evenly and it needs to be thin enough to roll up like a burrito. 

You could flatten the chicken breasts by pounding them down with a mallet but I prefer to slice the breasts horizontally, nearly all of the way, and then I lay the chicken breast open.  If the chicken breast is really thick you can slice it from the top side and then slice it again, in the opposite direction from the bottom side, to make a tri-fold.

Before we get going…

A caution about using toothpicks to secure food.  I use the same number of toothpicks on each item that I secure.  If I need two picks on one chicken breast, I use two on all of the other breasts, even if I might only need one toothpick for some.  That way, when serving time arrives, I know that I must remove two toothpicks from each breast.  It eliminates the guessing game that comes when I think, “did I use one or two toothpicks on this one?”  Make sure to remove toothpicks before serving! 

As with many recipes, you can stuff the chicken with anything you like.  This time around, I had some ricotta cheese that needed to be used and some prosciutto that was just itching to be used for something.  This recipe serves three people.

Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts

4 oz prosciutto

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

7 oz ricotta cheese (about half of a 15 oz container)

1 ½ cups Panko bread crumbs

½ cup cooking oil

For the sauce:

1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs flour

½ onion

¼ cup chicken stock

24 oz tomato sauce (I used an 8 oz can and 16 oz tomato sauce)

¼ cup half-and-half

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

4 oz spinach

Directions:

On a clean cutting board, flatten the chicken breasts to ¼” thick, or carefully slice them.

Layer the chicken breasts with several slices of prosciutto ham. 

Scatter grated parmesan cheese over the chicken breasts.

Apply a schmear of ricotta cheese to the chicken.

Spread some panko bread crumbs onto a large platter.  Lay a chicken breast onto the bread crumbs and press down lightly. 

Roll the chicken breast and secure with toothpicks. 

Heat a large skillet to medium heat and add ½ cup cooking oil. When the oil is hot, gently lay the chicken breasts into the pan, being careful to not crowd the pan.

When the bottom side browns, turn it over and cook the other side.  When both sides are golden brown, remove to a clean plate, lined with a paper towel.

Discard the oil from the pan.  I like to reuse oil so I usually dump the oil in a stainless steel bowl and filter it later and store it in a can.

Wipe remaining oil from pan but leave a slight, residual film of oil.  Turn heat to medium high and add onions.  Sautee for a minute until onions soften.  Remove onions and set aside.

Deglaze the skillet with chicken stock.

Butter and Flour, Tomato Sauce, Half and Half and Chicken Stock

Add butter and flour and whisk to make a roux. 

Add cream and tomato sauce.  Whisk and sauté until the sauce thickens.  Return the onions to the skillet.  Lower the heat.

Add mozzarella.

Add fresh spinach and sauté for another minute, or so, until the spinach wilts.

Pour the sauce onto an oven proof serving platter.  Arrange the chicken on top of the sauce and add a few slices of mozzarella. Bake in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

Garnish with fresh spinach and serve.

Meatball Subs

When I make spaghetti and meat balls I almost always make extra sauce and meatballs.  I sometimes use the extra sauce to make meatball sub sandwiches. 

Ingredients:

2 cups of cooked meatballs in marinara sauce

½ cup dry Parmesan cheese

1 large New Orleans style Po’ Boy bread loaf (or any good French loaf)

1 cup Mozzarella cheese, grated

½ cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

1 Tbs olive oil

1 clove of garlic, smashed

¼ bell pepper, sliced into ¼” strips

2 Tbs chopped fresh basil

Directions:

Warm the meatballs and marina is a skillet.  Add the dry Parmesan and mix.  Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

While the meatballs warm, grate the cheese and prepare the garlic and bell pepper.  Chop the basil.  Set aside.

In a small pan, add olive oil and garlic.  Heat the pan on low/medium heat and then add the bell pepper.  Sauté for a few minutes, until the peppers have softened.

Heat the oven broiler.

I used a 24” bread loaf, which made 4 subs.

Slice the bread loaf but do not cut through all of the way.   Cut a “V” shaped trough in one of the lengths. 

Add the meatballs and marinara to the trough in the bread loaf.

Add the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Put the subs under the oven broiler to melt the cheese.

Remove the subs and layer with the bell pepper and a little more fresh Parmesan cheese and basil.

Shrimp with Creamy Garlic Butter and Pasta

This dish is a bit like Shrimp Scampi but, not so bold and intense in flavor.  The creaminess, provided by the half-and-half, along with the pasta turns a wild Shrimp Scampi into something gentle and soothing.

Ingredients:

4 Tbs unsalted butter

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp coarse salt

1 tsp red chili flakes

4 garlic cloves

1 lb large, raw shrimp, deveined and peeled

2 green onions

¼ cup fresh basil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

½ cup half-and-half

12 oz dry pasta (I used Farfalle – butterfly pasta)

Ingredients for the sauce thickener:

1 Tbs softened butter

1 Tbs flour

Ingredients for the garnish:

½ cup diced tomatoes

2 root ends of green onions

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp vinegar

½ tsp oregano

¼ tsp garlic powder

Directions:

You should prepare all of the ingredients in advance.  Shrimp cooks very quickly and you want to have all of the other ingredients ready when you need them.

Boil the pasta to al dente.  Normally I would use lots of water but this time, I wanted the noodles to keep some of their starchiness so that the sauce would cling to it better.

While the pasta cooks…

Pulverize coarse salt and red chili flakes in a mortar and pestle.  Set aside.

Chop the garlic and slice the green onions.  Reserve the root portions of the green onions.  Set aside.

Prepare the sauce thickener by blending the flour with the softened butter.  I like to use a fork for blending.  Set aside until needed.

Prepare the garnish by dicing the tomato and roots of the green onion.

Drain the pasta but do not rinse.  Set aside.

Strain the garnish to remove the olive oil and vinegar.  Set the garnish aside.

Rinse the shrimp under cold water and remove the shells. 

In a large skillet, add 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Simmer at low heat. 

Add the garlic and crushed salt and red chili flakes.  Simmer at low heat for about two minutes.  This will allow the garlic to mellow a little. 

Add the shrimp to the pan.  Turn the heat to low/medium. 

Stir the shrimp until they turn from translucent to slightly pink.

Add the green onion, basil and lemon juice to the pan and stir for about a half minute.

Add the sauce thickener and mix with the buttery sauce.  It should thicken within a minute or so. Add the half-and-half and stir. 

Add the Parmesan cheese.

Turn the heat off and add the pasta.  Stir a few times and remove to a serving bowl.

Top with the tomato and onion garnish.

Chicken Marsala

I don’t make Chicken Marsala very often, mainly because I rarely have Marsala wine on hand but, every time I make this I tell myself that I should always keep a bottle of Marsala within arm’s reach.  The sauce that the wine produces is rich and smooth.  A good Marsala sauce results in a beautiful balance of sweet and savory flavors.  Heavy cream can be added to the sauce to make it luxurious, to the point of decadent. 

Note: Most recipes for Chicken Marsala call for some cooking sherry to be added, along with the Marsala wine.  Cooking sherry is another thing that I rarely keep in stock, so I skipped it.  Marsala and sherry are both sweet wines and I didn’t think I would lose any significant flavor by omitting the sherry. 

Ingredients:

¼ cup flour

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

½ tsp dried oregano

4 chicken breasts, sliced ¼“ thick

4 Tbs butter

4 Tbs olive oil

1 cup thinly sliced shallots

1 ½  cup sliced mushrooms (an 8 oz package)

½ cup Marsala wine

Directions:

Slice the chicken breasts horizontally into ¼”slices.

Mix the flour, salt, pepper and oregano together in a bowl.  Coat the chicken in the flour mixture and set aside for several minutes.

In a skillet, melt the butter and oil over at medium/low heat. 

Add the shallots and simmer for 1 minute.  Remove the shallots and reserve. 

Place the coated chicken in the pan, and brown, slightly.  Do not crowd the chicken.  You will probably need to make two batches.  Turn the chicken after a minute, or so, and then once again to lightly brown the other side. 

Set the first batch of chicken aside to a warm area.  Add the second batch of coated chicken to the pan.

Once the second batch of chicken is done, add the first batch back to the pan. Add the mushrooms and shallots to the pan.  Finally, add the Marsala wine.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, turning the chicken one more time during the process.

A wonderful brown sauce forms in a matter of a few minutes. 

Masala – Marsala

This week’s confession is truly astounding, even for someone like me, who has committed so many kitchen atrocities over time that I am sure I will end up in Kitchen Hell, when it’s all said and done.

All kidding aside, this was truly a remarkable faux pas.  I’m the sort of person that likes to be the smartest kid in the class and, if it’s obvious that I am not the smartest, I like to the one that says the most clever things.  Earlier this week I confused Masala with Marsala. 

For those of you who might be scratching your heads, wondering what the difference is between the two, I’ll tell you.  The difference is “R”.  (See what I mean about trying to make up for a lack of intellect by attempting to be clever?)

Masala is a mixture of many spices.  It’s a term used by people from India and Pakistan, among other places.  It is not just one particular spice mix.  The mix can contain any number of spices.  Masala is the flavor foundation for many dishes.

Marsala is a sweet, fortified Italian dessert wine, often used for cooking. 

An innocent mistake, for sure.  And, if that was where my story ended, I could have laughed it off and gone on with my life with nobody being the wiser. 

Several months ago, while visiting my favorite Indian spice market, I struck up a conversation with the proprietor, as I usually do.  He is always willing to stop and talk with me and he has been a tremendous guide, while I attempt to unravel Indian cuisine.  On this occasion, I told him that I was considering making a masala pizza, at least that is what he probably heard.  I actually said Marsala, because I was thinking about making a chicken Marsala pizza.  That was the moment I ran off the rails. 

You see, I have made chicken Marsala before and I have made many dishes with masala, although I’ve never really thought about calling the spice mixture, masala.  I must have had a bizarre synaptic short-circuit which caused me to switch masala with Marsala.  The proprietor, being the gentleman that he is, just stared at me when I suggested the masala pizza.  He gave me a sort of quizzical, pitiful look.

Well, months later, here I am ready to make the pizza.  I wanted to try a test run with the chicken Marsala, before moving on to the pizza.  I went back to the Indian market to pick up some items for other dishes and when I saw the proprietor, I told him that I was really going to make the masala pizza, but I what I actually said was, “Marsala”.  I told him that I was deliberating on how to approach the pizza.  I didn’t want to use traditional Italian marinara and mozzarella because I didn’t think they would pair well with the Marsala sauce.  I asked him if he had a suggestion for a creamy sauce that I could make, instead of using Mozzarella.  After a moment, he suggested coconut milk and followed that with suggesting tapioca starch to thicken the coconut milk.

Coconut milk?  I’ve taken some interesting turns while creating new food but coconut milk didn’t seem like a very good idea for pizza but, I told him that I would give it a try.

As I left the store and headed to the wine store, to pick up some Marsala wine, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been utterly confused.  You see, the proprietor of the spice market speaks perfectly.  Despite the tell-tale Indian accent, his diction and vocabulary is precise and clear.  He speaks better English than most people I encounter, on any given day. 

“Masala”, was what he was saying, and he made sure to say masala each time after I said “Marsala” to him.  The nerve cells in my brain finally made the jump.  I had been enlightened!  I also suffered from incredible embarrassment. 

As I drove to the wine store I convinced myself that the only way to redeem myself was to perform an act of penance.  I would make two pizzas.  One would be inspired by masala and the other would be inspired by Marsala

One final interesting event rounded out the day and convinced me that fate is a very real thing.  I was checking out some other blogs and I came across this blog,  https://ishitasood.com/ .  It’s tagline reads, “The Biggest and Only Indian Blog on Italy”.  Ishita is the author and she has produced some very interesting posts.  One post in particular struck a chord with me… https://ishitasood.com/confessions-of-a-passionate-blogger/

In the blog she offers some words of encouragement, including the following: “It is okay to be vulnerable.”

And that was exactly what I needed to hear.  It is what I needed to remember.  I am an imperfect human and so is everybody else.

I will work on these recipes with an open heart and an open mind.

Quick Italian Something

After spending most of the day in the kitchen, cutting vegetables and cooking sauces, the last thing I wanted to do was make an elaborate dinner.  But, I wanted a meaningful and heartfelt meal to end the day.  Since I still had fresh tomatoes and basil on the kitchen counter, I decided to make something Italian-ish. 

Most of the time, when dinner time rolls around, I don’t have anything planned, and this was no exception.  So I did what I normally would do.  I stared at the contents of my refrigerator and started grabbing things that would go well together.  Some ground beef, some cheese and oh, the little tub of ricotta that I kept overlooking.  I considered making spaghetti but I thought it might be a little boring so, I opted for a the partial bag of wide egg noodles in my pantry that looked particularly lonely. 

I had just finished cleaning a bunch of dishes, bowls and pots and pans and I didn’t want to do a lot of clean-up after dinner so I made the entire dish with one large ovenproof skillet and two bowls. 

Ingredients:

If preparing homemade marina:  2 cups cut, fresh tomatoes, ½ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp dried oregano, ¼ tsp dried rosemary, pinch of red chili flake, pinch of salt

2 cups marinara sauce (store-bought or homemade)

8 oz egg noodles

1 Tbs olive oil

¼ cup diced onion

1 lb ground beef

3 oz mozzarella

3 oz parmesan cheese

15 oz ricotta cheese (almost forgot, even though it was the reason I made this)

Directions for the marinara sauce:

Core and remove the seeds from 5 or 6 medium sized tomatoes.  Cut the tomatoes into 1” pieces.  Cook tomatoes in a skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic powder, oregano, rosemary, chili flake and salt.  Mash the tomatoes every so often and reduce to about half, or until the tomatoes are completely softened and the sauce has thickened.

“Reduce the sauce and add spices to make the marinara”

While the sauce reduces, cut the mozzarella into bite-sized chunks and shave the parmesan.  Cut the basil in thin strips (chiffonade).  Set aside.

Pour the finished sauce into a bowl and set aside. 

Directions for preparing the Italian Something:

Fill a skillet with water, about half way.  Bring the water to a boil and add the noodles.  They will cook quickly…maybe 8 to 10 minutes.  Strain the cooked noodles and put them in a bowl and set the bowl aside. 

Heat the oven to 350°.

Return the skillet to the stove and add heat the olive oil.  Add the onions and soften the onions for a few minutes.  Add the ground beef and sauté until the meat has browned. 

Add the marinara and noodles to the beef, in the skillet and mix.  Top with mozzarella and parmesan.  Bake in the oven at 350° for about 15 minutes, until mozzarella has melted.

Now here’s the interesting, and somewhat embarrassing part.  One of the main reasons I made this dish was to get rid of the ricotta cheese that had just recently passed its “Best if Used By” date.  I couldn’t stand for that so, I pulled the skillet from the oven and plopped the ricotta cheese on top and gently swirled it with a spatula.   

In case anyone might be concerned, such as the people who ate this dish, the “Best if Used By” date is not the same as an “Expiration” date.  “Best if Used By” means that the food might have lost some of its freshness, aroma or taste.  If it has passed its expiration date, don’t use it. 

Either way, I unsealed the ricotta and, after checking the aroma, I deemed it worthy!

Return the skillet to the oven for another 5 or 10 minutes.  Remove , top with basil and serve in the skillet. 

Serve with a glass of nice red wine.  You deserve it!

If I make this again, I will probably introduce the ricotta during the last few minutes again because it allowed the ricotta to stay slightly firm, instead of dissolving into the sauce.

Caesar Salad

A good Caesar salad is hard to resist.  Crisp romaine lettuce and crunchy croutons are the perfect vehicle for the robust, memorable dressing that accompanies it. 

Italian immigrant, Caesar Cardini is credited with this Italian-American staple.  Caesar immigrated to America in the early 20th century and eventually made his way to southern California and Tijuana, Mexico, where he operated restaurants.  He trademarked his famous salad dressing in 1948.

His storied life is not too different than the many other immigrants that have made their homes here.  It is no surprise that many of our common, day-to-day meals are a result of the imagination and ingenuity of immigrants, like Caesar Cardini.   Immigrants have come to define who we are, as a nation. 

Ingredients:

2 cups Italian bread (or any other suitable bread for croutons)

1 Tbs olive oil

3 anchovies (packed in oil)

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 egg yolk

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

2 tsp Dijon mustard

¼ cup olive oil

3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

1 large head of Romaine lettuce, chopped into large pieces

½ cup red onion, chopped

2 hardboiled eggs, sliced (optional)

Directions:

Cut the loaf of bread into 1” thick slices. Lay the pieces of bread directly onto an oven rack and heat for about 15 minutes at 200°. Dry the bread but don’t toast it.  Remove the dried bread from the oven and cut into 1” cubes.  Toss the cubed bread in a bowl while drizzling a scant amount of olive oil.  Put the croutons on a baking sheet and toast at 300° for about 15 minutes.  I let mine go a bit too long in the oven and they tasted nutty.  (Note of the brown hue of the croutons in the photo.)

Smear the anchovies, garlic, and salt on a cutting board with the flat side of a large, kitchen knife. Keep working the mixture with the knife until it forms a paste.  I have to admit, I licked my fingers after preparing the paste.  The anchovy and garlic was intense, but oh, so good, especially since I am crazy about anchovy! 

Whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard in a bowl.  Once blended, introduce the olive oil very slowly by drizzling the oil into the bowl and whisking briskly.  Keep whisking until the mixture becomes smooth and creamy.  Add a little water and whisk some more.   Add just enough water to achieve a creamy consistency, like you might find in store bought, creamy salad dressings.  Add the anchovy paste and Parmesan and whisk until thoroughly mixed.  Transfer the dressing to a large salad bowl. 

Lay the Romaine lettuce horizontally on a cutting board and make 1 ½” to 2” cuts from one end to the other.  Romaine is a dense, compact lettuce and that makes it desirable for this salad.  Add the chopped lettuce to the bowl and toss gently to incorporate the dressing.  Add the croutons, onion and toss a few more times.  Top with sliced hard boiled eggs, if you like.  Sprinkle a little more Parmesan cheese on top and that’s it. 

Now, since I mentioned that I love anchovies, I have to say that I enjoy adding strips of anchovy on top of the salad, radiating from the center like sun rays, but I know that anchovies are not adored by everyone.  The amount of anchovy in the dressing should satisfy anchovy lovers without offending the rest of the crowd.  In fact, the lemon juice and Dijon mustard tame the anchovy flavor remarkably well.  Balance the dressing according to your own taste. 

If you are cooking for someone who absolutely despises anchovies, consider finding a new friend consider substituting the anchovy in the dressing with a few teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce.  Everyone loves Worcestershire sauce, right?  Just don’t tell ‘em that Worcestershire sauce contains anchovy!