Tuscan Stuffed Chicken

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First disclaimer: this dish perhaps cannot be called “Tuscan” in a strict sense of the word. What is Tuscan cooking specifically, as opposed to our sanitized American version of Italian food? I’m not totally sure. Frances Maye’s fabulous Under the Tuscan Sun would have me believe…not this.

This dinner originated from one of those, “I have a lot of random in the fridge – what can I do?” kind of moments that make cooking so great. And what I found was that the earthy flavors of the mushroom, combined with the bloomy blue cheese (or bleu cheese, if you’re into pretentious spelling) and the garlicky sauce all combine to make a hearty dish that recalls long days hiking the hills, sun warmed cobblestone streets, and un bicchiere di vino at the end of the day.

What do true Tuscan people eat? I have no idea. What I ate in Tuscany (pizza/pasta/wine/repeat) is not sustainable for a nice long life, unlike this dish I’m about to share. But there is something about this dish – it’s rusticity, it’s simplicity – that makes me think (or hope?) that calling it Tuscan isn’t too far off the mark.

TUSCAN STUFFED CHICKEN (serves four)

Ingredients:

. 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

. 2 tablespoons each feta cheese and blue cheese

. 1 large handful of fresh spinach, chopped or chiffonaded

. 1/2 cup chopped cremini mushrooms

. 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

. 1/2 cup red wine

. 1 jar of prepared marinara sauce OR equivalent amount of homemade sauce

. EVOO, salt and pepper

. Optional add-ins: dried shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, glug of balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes

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Instructions:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 425, then coat the bottom of a glass pan or baking dish with EVOO and a little bit of marinara sauce. Just cover the bottom so the chicken won’t stick.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine the feta, blue cheese, mushrooms, spinach, Italian seasoning and any of the add-in ingredients you’d like. Cover everything with 1/2 cup of marinara sauce and a small glug of EVOO. Mix well until it’s all combined.

3. Prep the chicken by trimming any fat and making two slits down the middle. I cut mine all the way through so the stuffing mix can really cook in.

Prepped chicken breasts

4. Lay the chicken in a pan and stuff away!

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5. Layer extra stuffing mixture on top. The cheese will melt in and the spinach will wilt nicely, so don’t be dainty about it – use it all, as the top photo shows.

6. Cover the pan with more sauce (you can be more or less saucy based on personal preference) and then add some red wine over the top and around the sides. The wine gives it a subtle depth not unlike chicken marsala, though less heavy handed.

7. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes covered, then the final 10 uncovered. If the liquid in the bottom is bubbling and the chickens are simmering slightly, you’ll know you’re done.

8. Serve over a bed of quinoa, brown rice, pasta, or just eat!

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