She gets all the credit for this recipe. Well, no. The lovely Gina from Skinny Taste gets first and foremost credit, with honorable mention going to Pinterest for putting the recipe in front of my sister’s friend’s mom’s face who then printed it and gave it to my sister.
But my sister gets secondary credit because she’s the one who introduced me to this incredibly easy, healthy, and completely gorgeous recipe idea. And ultimately I guess I will take the credit for eating seven of the chicken rolls.
Kristin (ma sista) made this while we were up at the cabin a few weeks ago and it was a hit before it even made its way to our plates. She came rounding the corner holding a jumbo pan of baked goodness and just one look at all that chicken, cheese, sauce, and fresh basil was enough to make us all fall in love/grab at the chicken with our hands while still in the pan/fight for the cheesy strings on top. Ahem.
Bjork especially loved this down-home baked chicken dinner. So much so that I had a sudden shameful sometimes-vegetarian wife moment where I realized that his typical dinner fare as of late consists of lentil burgers and squash curry and the occasional bowl of cereal. I said to myself: Lindsay, you need to feed this man crispy, cheese-soaked saucy chicken. Like, yesterday.
But fear not, veg lovers! Even though this is baked chicken paradise, each chicken piece is actually stuffed with my very own favorite power veggie: spinach. Very delicate baby spinach, chopped and just very lightly wilted with some garlic and olive oil, just to make ya feel green and happy on the inside. And if you must, a little cheese and bread crumbs and sauce and more melted cheese along with that will be accepted.
My mom would call this recipe “putzy” and it is, in fact, putzy. You have give each piece of chicken some special TLC and your hands will be a complete ugly raw-chicken disaster by the time it’s all said and done. But the payoff = your dinner, which is a beauty queen featuring incredible textures and summer’s very best colors. And your family will think you are some kind of culinary genius, because, in reality, you are.
Aww yeah you are.
So here’s how things happen. You first roll that spinach with a little ricotta and Parmesan cheese inside a piece of chicken. Hold on to it cause it might try to slip away from ya or the spinach might come sneaking out the edges. Come on, now. Commit to not losing any of that yummy, creamy filling. Roll the whole thing in egg whites and seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs. I will not send the food police if you use white bread crumbs, but forget health benefits – the whole wheat crumbs have a rich brown color that makes the whole thing pop. Worth it.
At this point you’re going to ask: am I doing this right? If you’re making a total mess, then yes.
Arrange all 8 of the chicken pieces in a normal sized pan. If I was making this for a real family, I’d have put the other three in the sides of this little pan. But I was cooking for a food blog and got all weird about turning a few pieces sideways. #psycho
Hey! They’re cute! And you’re a mess. Go wash your hands.
While the chicken bakes, cut a few slices of fresh Mozzarella. Fresh, peeps. I mean the stuff that’s pure white, sold in big hunks, completely mild and delicious, and melts like a dream.
If you don’t eat a few extra pieces of cheese during this step you are a not human.
Ding! Chicken’s done. Top it with sauce and cheese and melt it to give it the final crown of Mozzarella glory.
Final step: fresh basil.
Layer the leaves, roll them up into a tight bundle, and cut thin slices at a vertical slant to make “ribbons.” Sprinkle the ribbons over the whole pan of melty, cheesy, baked Mozzarella chicken rolls and watch the color party happen right in front of your eyes.
This meal has summer dinner written all over it. The fresh basil, the tomato sauce, the creamy spinach bursting out of the seams, the Italian herb smells that will waft out of your open windows and make your neighbors wonder if they can come for dinner, AND the happy nutrition stats? It’s all there.
Would someone please outdo me with some kind of homegrown tomatoes made into homegrown sauce, because how amazing would that be?
I think I want a garden.
- 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (8 4-ounce pieces)
- 1 cup whole wheat Italian style bread crumbs
- 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 5 ounces fresh baby spinach
- 1 clove minced garlic and olive oil for sauteeing
- ½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- ⅓ cup beaten egg whites (I used something similar to Egg Beaters)
- 3 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
- 1 cup marinara sauce
- fresh basil for topping
- Prep the chicken: Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and pound the pieces until they are thin (for quick cooking) and have expanded in surface area (for more filling). Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and set aside.
- Prep the filling: Chop the spinach and saute it with the garlic and just a drizzle of olive oil for 2-3 minutes or until just barely wilted. Combine the sauteed spinach with the ricotta, Parmesan cheese, and 2-3 tablespoons of the egg whites. Place the remaining egg whites in a separate shallow bowl and set aside.
- Assemble the chicken: Oil the bottom of a large baking dish and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place one piece of chicken on a flat working surface. Put a spoonful of ricotta-spinach filling right in the middle and roll the chicken up so that the edges meet to form a “seam”. Dip the entire chicken roll in egg whites, and then roll it in the breadcrumbs. Place in a baking dish, seam side down. Repeat for the remaining 7 pieces of chicken. Bake for 25 minutes.
- Finishing touches: After 25 minutes, the chicken should be cooked through (white on the inside) and browned on the top. Cover the chicken with the marinara sauce and slices of fresh Mozzarella. Bake for another 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melting. Sprinkle with fresh basil.