By Breckyn Crocker
CHUISDINO, Italy– For many years I watched the methodical hands of chefs on the Food Network piecing together their favorite recipes while I sat on my indented couch, soaking in every measurement and ingredient like a sponge. Many of these televised dishes included various ways of making chicken. Roasted, boiled, fried, marinated, glazed, and barbequed, I thought I’d seen all this poultry staple had to offer.
But at Spannocchia, I was not in my living room at home but in the kitchen cooking with a master of authentic, Tuscan cuisine. And it just so happened chicken was on the menu for our feast that afternoon.
This was not an ordinary chicken recipe nor was it smothered in mozzarella and tomato sauce like I had expected from an Italian kitchen. The chicken was a succulent slice of meat stuffed with a simple omelet, fresh asparagus, herbs, and parmesan cheese.
Loredana Betti, one of the long-time cooks at Spannochia, had an artful way of preparing the chicken, better than any cooking show I’d seen before. She sliced the chicken out like a butterfly, set the hot Parmesan omelet on top, as well as fresh asparagus and herbs. Then, she rolled the chicken pieces and tied them with butcher’s twine like a perfect bow on a present.
The feast that afternoon included an appetizer of gorgonzola and pear crostinis, a first course of homemade tagliatelle with a garden-fresh pasta sauce, herbed zucchini as a side, and a light yet rich dessert of tiramisu. But out of all that heavenly deliciousness, my favorite part was the rotolo di petto di pollo or stuffed and baked chicken roll. The chicken was perfectly tender to accompany the juicy crunch from the asparagus as well as the surprise guest —the cheesy omelet. Maybe it was the simple ingredients that reminded me of my home that I love or maybe it was just the Tuscan version of chicken. In either case, when it comes to Italians and chicken, I’ve learned to roll with it.
Rotolo di Petto di Pollo
Stuffed and Baked Chicken Roll
2 large de-boned chicken breasts
juice from a fresh lemon
salt to taste
4 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 cup of spinach (or asparagus), cooked, and drained
small handful of pine nuts
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 sprig rosemary
5 sage leaves
3 cloves garlic
8 ounces of white wine
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut each chicken breast in half. Take each half and butterfly it so it lays flat. Squeeze fresh lemon over the meat for flavor. Sprinkle chicken with salt to taste. Whisk the eggs and pour half the mixture into a frying pan and make an omelet. Repeat to make a second omelet. Cut each omelet into two equal parts. Put an omelet piece into each open chicken breast. Sprinkle the omelet with one tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Now add a quarter of the spinach or asparagus and a quarter of the pine nuts. Roll the chicken tightly closed, and tie it in three places with butcher’s twine. Put the chicken rolls in a oven-safe pan and add the olive oil, rosemary, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and pour white wine over the chicken. Place pan back in the back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Turn off the oven. You can either serve it immediately, or leave it in the oven (with the door open) until ready to serve. Before serving, cut each roll into several thick slices to show the interior layers and arrange on a large tray.