Whenever my friends have news, good or bad, I want to cook for them. For good news it is a celebration! For bad news, it is my version of giving comfort. It is born from a habit started long ago when my family. We always celebrated or mourned surrounded by our people over a table full of food. One of my oldest and dearest friends Susan came over with news recently and cooking was definitely a necessity.
She loved it when I made rolled chicken before, so I followed their fowl lead and came up with another rolled beauty. These chicken breasts came out much less dainty and heartily filled us up. Definitely appropriate for the occasion, since Susan has some ass kicking to do in the near future.
As the holiday season draws near there is a lot of feasting and fasting and celebrating. Embrace the time you have with family and friends. Embrace the time hanging out in the kitchen. Embrace the kids playing chase in the house (and the resulting broken vase). Embrace the chill while sipping coffee in the morning. Embrace the hectic days and the slow, lazy days. Embrace each other and yourself. Time passes swiftly so embrace what you have in real time. Embrace. Embrace stuffed chicken breasts because they are most awesome.
Susan’s Stuffed Chicken Breasts
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 8-ounce can tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small bunch fresh parsley, stems removed
3 sprigs fresh oregano, stems removed
8-10 fresh basil leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
4 cups fresh spinach
2 cups (or 2 14-ounce cans) marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
12 slices thin deli ham
4 cups grated cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sauce pot over medium heat add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and garlic. Roughly chop the parskley, oregano and basil leaves. Add all the herbs except about 2 tablespoons to the sauce. Set aside the extra herbs for the top of the dish. When the sauce begins to steam, lower heat let simmer for about 30 minutes then remove from heat.
While sauce is simmering prepare the chicken and stuffing. Finely chop the spinach and artichoke hearts. In a medium bowl combine the artichoke hearts, spinach, onion and lemon juice. Toss until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Spread a piece of wax or parchment paper on the counter, at least twice the size of a single chicken breast. Place a breast in the middle of the paper. Cover the breast with a second piece of paper. With the flat side of a tenderizer mallet (or a regular mallet covered in cling wrap), gently pound the breast, starting from the center and moving towards the edges, until it is 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch thick. Repeat with all the breasts, changing out the paper as needed. Generously season each breast on both sides with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To stuff the chicken clear a work surface. Position nearby a 9×13 inch baking dish. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Place a single breast in front of you on your work surface lengthwise. Use two pieces of ham to cover the surface of the breast as much as possible. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of grated cheese on top of the ham. Spoon 1/6 of the spinach artichoke mixture in a row from top to bottom on one side of the breast. Starting on the side nearest the mixture begin rolling the breast, making sure the left and right ends overlap at least once at the end of the roll. Place the roll seam down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining breasts.
Pour tomato sauce over chicken rolls, leaving 1/4 inch from the top clear of sauce so there is room for it to bubble up to the dish edges. You may have leftover sauce, depending on the size of the chicken breasts. Sprinkle remaining grated cheese and chopped herbs on top of the sauce. Bake for 45 minutes until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Remove from oven and let sit for ten minutes before serving.