I don’t know enough about Italian cuisine to know what is Florentine about this dish (though if I had to guess, I’d say it’s the spinach), but I do know that it’s pretty yummy. I made this because I was trying to use up what seems to be a never-ending container of spinach in the fridge. And also some leftover shredded cheese from something or other. And also because we may be serving something similar at our wedding reception, so I wanted to try it out.
The concept is pretty basic: chicken breasts are pounded out thin, then rolled up with spinach and cheese, sauteed or baked, and served with cream sauce (or not).
After I made this I did some research online and discovered that it is common to bread the whole chicken roll before sauteeing, but I think it was delicious without it. I’ll share my recipe with you, though there’s nothing particularly original about it–I didn’t use any specific recipe for inspiration but just made it using the verbal description our wedding reception chef gave as well as what I had in my fridge.
I made a béchamel sauce to spoon over the top of the chicken for just an extra hint of creaminess. You may remember that we seem to have some sort of fascination for rolled meats (see this or this), but what we loved about this dish is that even though we were essentially using leftovers and simple chicken breasts (which some families tire of very quickly), we were able to create a dressed-up dish that felt like a fancy way to spend a Friday night for cheap (seriously, I know gas prices fluctuate, but when your tank is on empty and gas is well over $3/gallon, you think twice about driving into town to go out to eat).
Simple Chicken Florentine
Yum Factor: Alex – 8.5, Jessalyn – 8
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
– 2 chicken breasts
– handful of baby spinach
– handful of shredded cheese (seeing as this is an Italian dish, I’m sure the traditional recipes call for Parmesan cheese; I used monterey jack because that’s what I was trying to use up; I’m certain you’d find success with most cheeses you might have in your fridge)
– dried oregano
– garlic powder
– salt and pepper
2. Place the chicken on a cutting board between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound the meat until it is thinner and covers a larger surface area with either a meat mallet or a heavy iron skillet. Remove plastic wrap and season both sides with a light sprinkling of salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic powder.
3. Place a small handful of cheese on each chicken breast. Top with a few leaves of baby spinach. Carefully roll the chicken up, tucking in the spinach and cheese. Secure with 2-3 pieces of cooking twine.
4. Heat about 1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the rolled chicken. Sear on each side about 4 minutes (my roll had 4 “sides” so this process took me about 15-16 minutes to achieve a nice golden crust).
5. When you’ve got a nice crust going, transfer the chicken rolls to a lightly greased baking dish and bake in the preheated oven 15-20 minutes. Remove twine before serving.
I say this dish is “simple” because it really is. It’s not one of those recipes that produces piles of dishes to wash afterwards. It’s forgiving enough that if you didn’t have spinach and cheese to roll into your chicken, you could use something else–say, cranberries and apples or proscuitto and arugula or whatever you have hiding out in your fridge in a too-small-for-a-full-meal quantity. But you’ll note that I didn’t cut any corners here. I didn’t go out of my way to make this recipe adaptable for working moms with carpool schedules to orchestrate or for busy dads keeping one eye on the game and one eye on the now-mobile toddler or for stressed college kids trying to fit a meal in between their study session on the elliptical and a busy weekend social agenda. It’s just real, honest, good-for-you food that just happened to be easy to make.
I bring this up because you may have experimented recently with Google’s recipe search feature. Amanda Hesser’s enlightening view on the topic illustrates the danger in reducing a recipe to its quantitative substance: while approximate cook time may be useful to know at a glance, other numbers, such as calories, risk overlooking things like taste, fats or cholesterol or sodium, complexity, etc.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Google. I think the recipe search is a good idea in theory. But, as a foodie (and an amateur food blogger), I’d encourage you not to ignore the qualitative elements of a recipe–the stories behind the dishes, the family traditions and table conversations, the farms from which the ingredients came, the love and faith and pure energy that went into making something “just right.” These are the things that nourish us beyond the macromolecules and vitamins and whatnot, and the things that – I would argue – sustain us when times are lean. Studies have suggested that the human body absorbs more nutrients from foods that are arranged in pleasing ways on the plate (read more here). How much more then might our bodies thrive as we partake of a meal that calls forth positive childhood memories or that nursed a sick child back to health or that was created on accident but won a national contest?
Maybe this is all just the English Lit-major side of me coming through, but personally I find it more enjoyable to work with a recipe (or invent my own) that has a story behind it. It helps me connect with the food I make and, in a small way, helps me plug into the rich culture of eating that is, at its most basic, a necessity of human survival, and at its most complex, a celebration of human inventiveness.
Clearly what started as a simple post turned into a rather involved philosophical discussion. But what are your thoughts? Does the “background story” of a recipe make the food more meaningful to you? (And if it doesn’t, what motivates you reading a food blog?) Or maybe you’re just here for the Chicken Florentine? If that’s the case, what would you like to see stuffed inside your chicken? Leave a comment and share your two cents.