Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Margherita Pizza Stuffed Chicken Breasts

This recipe combines two of my favorite things: chicken and pizza. Usually, when I'm thinking of chicken and pizza it's because I'm making some type of pizza, and am planning to use a healthy dose of succulent shredded chicken breast as one of many flavorful toppings. For this recipe, however, I have decided to put a fresh and colorful margherita pizza inside of a perfectly baked chicken breast. For those of you in need of a little culinary education, a margherita pizza typically consists of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The colors of these ingredients, red, white and green, coincide with those found on the Italian flag (not necessarily coincidentally, I might add). I jazzed the three traditional ingredients up a little bit by adding golden brown pancetta, and using smoked mozzarella (to help create the smoky elements of a wood fired pizza) and sun-dried tomatoes (to enhance the tomato flavor some). The pizza "crust" is emulated by breading the chicken, as I would to make oven-fried chicken.

Stuffed Chicken with Spaghetti and Roasted Garlic Bread
Margherita Pizza Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Servings: 4
Total Time: ~ 1 hour (depending on your prep work speed)

A few star ingredients
4 chicken breast halves
8 oz. smoked mozzarella cheese, shredded
8 tbls. ricotta cheese
1/4 c. parmesan cheese + 2 tbls./breast for garnish
8 tbls. fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 small to medium pack sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 c. marinara sauce
6 oz. pancetta
2 c. panko bread crumbs
2 c. whole wheat flour (white will work too)
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for drizzling

1. Preheat oven to 375 deg. On the stove, cook the pancetta until golden brown and crisp. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. 

Pancetta before
Pancetta after
2. Place all chicken breasts on a cutting board, and season all sides with salt and pepper. Once seasoned, create a pocket in each breast so ingredients may be stuffed inside. It is important to form each pocket without slicing all the way through the chicken. For a demonstration consult the bonus video below. 

3. Once all chicken pockets have been created, smear 2 tbls. of ricotta cheese on the bottom of each pocket. Reserve some of the mozzarella for last minute melting on top of the chicken breast. Now, evenly distribute the rest of the mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and pancetta into each chicken pocket. Close up the holes as best as possible with toothpicks.

4. After the chicken breasts have been stuffed, pour the flour, eggs and bread crumbs into three separate dishes. Season the flour with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs. Mix a little pepper and parmesan cheese in with the bread crumbs. 

Breading station

5. With the breading ingredients prepared, it is time to bread the chicken. Make sure no tasty ingredients sneak out of the hole during this step. Coat the chicken with the flour first, then dip into the eggs and finally cover with bread crumbs. Place the perfectly breaded chicken on a greased (and foiled-line if you want to greatly reduce clean up time) baking tray. Drizzle each breast with olive oil.
6. Place the food in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. After the allotted time, rotate the try (this is not necessary, but something I like to do). Continue baking for another 10 minutes. 

7. After about 30 minutes, remove the breasts and cover with marinara sauce (1/4 c. for each breast). Also, top with remaining mozzarella. Return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, allowing the sauce to heat and cheese to melt and slightly brown.

8. Once the chicken is cooked completely through and the cheese has melted, remove from the oven and allow to rest for a couple minutes. Also, please remember to remove all toothpicks!

9. Garnish with a few basil leaves and parmesan cheese, and enjoy with your favorite Italian sides! I chose spaghetti and garlic bread. You'll have plenty of time to prepare your favorites while the chicken is in the hot box.

1. Anytime you're working with raw meats, especially chicken, always keep separate from other ingredients. When you're touching the chicken, only touch the chicken until you can wash your hands. After you've finished preparing the chicken, wash the cutting board, or use a fresh one if needed for anything else. Don't cut fresh ingredients with the same knife used to cut raw chicken. I don't mean to nag, but food safety should always be a top priority.

2. I didn't add the sauce and cheese until the last few minutes of baking for two reasons: (1) I wanted the breading on the chicken to have a chance to crisp up and brown in order to maintain its necessary pizza crust integrity. (2) I didn't want the sauce and cheese to burn.

3. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of each breast, and even the power of your oven. The new oven I use cooks a little quicker than the old one, despite the exact same temperature setting. If you use a convection setting, then the cooking time is reduced even further. You're chicken is done when the juices run clear. 

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