Friday, June 9, 2017

Cheese and Herbs Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Brown Rice and Veggie Cold Pasta Salad




Cheese and Herbs Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Brown Rice Pasta Salad and Veggies

Ladies and Gentlemen, chicken dinners do NOT have to be boring, but they also do not need to be complicated!  Most of you know that I prefer to work with chicken thighs, but for this dish, chicken breasts are essential.  This two part dish is perfect for summer dinners, for serving guests indoors or outdoors, for parties and reunions, which most often are planned for summers. It is also perfect because it incorporates fresh herbs and vegetables in both the chicken and the pasta salad, and, using brown rice rotini pasta, this is a perfectly healthy dish!

Prep time is about 20 - 30 minutes (if you are distracted by snacks and a cocktail) and cook time is 45 minutes.  

Chicken Breast Ingredients:
3+ nice sized chicken breasts
1+ cups mixed cheeses
     *I used mozzarella, sharp white cheddar and 
       parmesan
3 rounded tablespoons fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, sage, basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme (altogether)
1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper
3 tablespoons ricotta cheese or mayo
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
non-stick spray

I used my favorite herbs and my favorite cheeses (although Fontina or Oaxaca would be perfect all by itself), and I encourage you to experiment and use herbs and cheeses you would love. 

Before I go on to the pasta salad recipe, I want to finish the recipe for the chicken.  

First, take a paring knife and, carefully, starting at the thick end of the chicken breast, cut a slit in the center of the meat.  Expand the hole a little right and left, interchanging the blade from side-to-side to expand the cavity all the way to the end. Continue with the rest of the breasts, simply salt and pepper both sides, and move on to the stuffing mixture.  

Once mixed, use your fingers or a tea spoon to generously stuff the chicken breasts.  Do not be stingy!  Some of the cheese is going to melt out so be sure to stuff the chicken generously. 


Cheese and herbs mixture

Once the chicken breasts have been prepped and stuffed, wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for thirty minutes so the cheese can set; in that way, less cheese will melt out.  You could close the opening with a toothpick, if you wish. I chose not to.  

Next, Brown Rice Rotini Pasta Salad


I love cold pasta and potato salads. I do love a couple of warm salads, but I am very partial to substantial cold salads in summer that do not rely on wilting greens in summer heat.  I have become obsessed with brown rice pasta, which holds its shape in a vinaigrette, holds up longer than semolina pasta and it is healthy. Do not worry, I am still a semolina pasta hound, too!  I love it all! 💓

Now, let's get to this very easy recipe. As I said before, unless you are distracted by a cocktail, this will take very little time and the end result is a happy flavor explosion! 

Pasta Vinaigrette Ingredients
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
2 rounded tablespoons fresh thyme, flat leaf Italian  parsley, oregano, basil and garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper, each
2 tablespoons Mirin
3 tablespoons Pomegranate Vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

Note, if you do not have fresh herbs, dried herbs for the vinaigrette as well as the cheese stuffing for the chicken works just as well. I love to use fresh, in-season herbs as much as possible. 

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together and chill in the frig until you combine the pasta and veggies. 

Meanwhile.......

Bring about four quarts of generously salted water to a roiling boil. 

On a clean cutting board, sliver a red onion or two shallots, finely chop a large or two small cloves garlic, finely chop flat leaf Italian parsley, sage and basil, and halve two pints of baby heirloom or baby tomato medley.  Finely chop scallion greens. Toss all into a large bowl. 

*Note: I also added a package of shredded broccoli and red cabbage to the salad to give it crunch and more healthy substantial greens. 

Add one pound, or, one package of brown rice pasta (your favorite; I used rotini) to the boiling salted water and stir to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Boil the pasta about ten to twelve minutes, a bit more than al dente. You will want the cooking process to stop abruptly, which is why I cook it a little more than al dente.  (Al dente is just about done). 

At this time, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. 

Drain the pasta and - although I have been taught never to do this, I want the cooking process to abruptly stop, as I mentioned a moment ago - rinse with cool water.  If you are worried about your tap water, pour chilled bottled water to rinse the pasta. The thing is, if you are on a timeline, you do not have all afternoon to chill the pasta tossed with the veg and vinaigrette; cool the pasta with water, despite it being a gastronomical no-no, and toss the pasta with the vegetables and vinaigrette, then chill as long as possible in the refrigerator. 

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees.

Now, add two or three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to ripple, add the chicken, stuffing end toward the edge of the skillet. Saute or sear for about three minutes per side or until it begins to form a golden crust. This will help keep the juices in while oven finishing. Repeat on the other side.  



Place foil into a baking pan, spray the lining with non-stick spray and oven roast for 40-minutes. Check the internal temperature; should be about 170-degrees or so.  And do not worry, as I said earlier, some of the cheese will melt out, but if you generously stuffed it, as I stated, there will be plenty of flavorful stuffing remaining. 

I safely plated the chicken over a healthy helping of the pasta salad, whole.  But in hindsight, I should have sliced it and served it atop the salad.  


I hope that you will try this delicious dish, either one or both!  It is far less complicated than it sounds.  It is perfect for dinner for a couple or for a family. It can be grilled (hot side then cooler side) or fully oven roasted.  

As always, I appreciate your time and readership!  

Now, go cook for someone you love!  

Martin
In-House Cook