Pesto and Goat Cheese-Filled Chicken Breasts
Costco can be a dangerous place if you don't arrive with a shopping list and a clear plan of action. My husband, Eric, is no longer allowed to accompany me on my monthly restocking trips, because with him along, I know that our bill is likely to end up being twice as large. As I methodically weave from aisle to aisle, Eric will disappear and return five minutes later with something like a ten pound bag of gummy bears (I finally had to throw this away, after it sat in our pantry for over a year) or a double-super-sized box of Frosted Mini Wheats (he never eats breakfast). After several years of being a member, I almost have shopping at Costco down to a science. I arrive first thing in the morning with my specific list, and I try to get out before the large families and people looking for a lunch of free samples arrive.
Despite all of my planning, my Costco strategy is still not foolproof, and I am not immune to snatching up a great bargain when I see one, especially these days, when the prices of certain foods are rising at an alarming rate. During my last trip, for example, as I was searching for buffalo mozzarella in the cheese case, I was stopped dead in my tracks by an amazing bargain on a one-pound log of high-quality artisan goat cheese. I had recently paid the same price for about one-fifth of a pound at our local grocery store, so into my cart it went. Determined to get my money's worth, I have been trying to work goat cheese into our meals ever since, including last night's dinner, Pesto and Goat Cheese-Filled Chicken Breasts.
This recipe uses a great basic technique for chicken that is versatile with regards to the many different ingredients that can serve as the filling. Spreading the filling over the flattened out chicken breast and then rolling the meat up around the ingredients helps to keep the chicken moist and infuses it with flavor. Chicken is an ideal blank canvas for a garlicky herb pesto, and the goat cheese adds a tangy flavor and creamy texture. Crisping the chicken up for a few minutes in the skillet prior to baking also helps to seal in the moisture. Keep this recipe in mind the next time a Costco bargain gets the better of you! Here are a few tips for achieving pesto chicken perfection:
- The pesto can be prepared up to one week in advance. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use. Use any leftover pesto as a substitute for mustard or mayonnaise on a sandwich, stir it into scrambled eggs or an omelet, or toss it with steamed vegetables.
- Feel free to mix and match herbs and nuts when preparing the pesto. Substitute basil, arugula, or spinach for the parsley. Replace the thyme with fresh rosemary or sage. Toasted pine nuts or almonds can be used instead of the walnuts.
- If goat cheese isn't your optimal choice for mixing with the pesto, try substituting shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gruyere, fontina, or smoked Gouda.
- After you have pounded the chicken breasts to the 1/4-inch thickness, it may be necessary to trim any extra strips or uneven pieces in order to facilitate rolling.
- For an attractive presentation, let the chicken rolls rest for 3-4 minutes after removing from the oven. Slice each roll crosswise into four or five circles and then fan the circles out onto the plate.
Pesto and Goat Cheese-Filled Chicken Breasts
1/2 cup thyme leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
2 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup soft goat cheese
1/3 cup pesto (recipe follows)
2 teaspoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Make pesto: Finely chop the parsley, thyme, cheese, walnuts, and garlic in a food processor or mini chopper. With the machine running, gradually add the lemon juice and the 1/2 cup olive oil. Continue to process the pesto until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Pound the chicken breasts between pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Combine the goat cheese, pesto, and shallot in a small bowl and mix well. Spread one chicken breast with 2 tablespoons of the pesto mixture. Starting with one side of the chicken breast, roll up tightly, jelly roll style. Secure the seams with toothpicks, if desired. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts and pesto mixture.
Heat the olive oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a shallow dish, and then dredge each chicken roll in the flour, shaking off excess. Fry the chicken breasts in olive oil until golden brown on all sides, turning occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes. Place the skillet with the chicken in the oven and bake until the chicken is tender and cooked through, about 10 minutes.