It's okay, you can live vicariously through this Chicken Florentine recipe, too.

I am in the very midst of passing up possibly the best darn opportunity dropped at my feet, and my own wishy-washiness is surely going to be my downfall as deadlines approach much too quickly. The faculty advisor of the Student Dietetic Association is planning a dreamy Culinary Tour of Italy - I know, I don't need to say anything else, right? Those three words in one sentence - culinary, tour, Italy - are enough to make your heart go aflutter and your salivary glands leap into action. For 9 days, this trip would send me to Florence, Milan, and Rome; to the Slow Food University and Chocolate tastings; and to museums and shops and little tiny cafe's or vendors on occasional free days. Hold on a second, let me correct myself - this trip would send me to all of those places to see all of those things, if I were going to go - which, chances are, I will not.

Don't get me wrong, there is a part of me that is crawling out of my skin to be there. The foodie within me is throwing a fit, kicking and screaming as my outer practicality looks on with apathy. I do have my reasons, some of which are totally lame, others (ahem, money) are much more justified. (Though, still...I could...but then... - you see? There is a civil war raging within me right now.) I think if it were a Culinary Tour of France I would have signed up even if it caused me to go bankrupt. I still would have hesitated, but I think every single person I know would have slapped me across the face if I had even considered turning that one down.With Italy, though, I have a few people in my life who are actually taking my side of things, and by my side of things I mean my rationale's side of things, and not my fantasy-driven-let's-have-an-under-the-tuscan-sun-vacation side. Because really, who wouldn't want that?

So, if you have not been given some crazy, random, out-of-the-blue, whimsical chance to explore the culinary culture of Italy - or, if you're like me and you have and you're still likely going to remain at home - try this recipe for Chicken Florentine on for size. Because even if you won't be eating it at the Slow Food University, or to counter-balance a day of decadent chocolate tasting, you can still close your eyes and pretend. You can bite into the creamy, salty mixture of sundried tomatoes, spinach, and parmesan cheese, all rolled up inside a seared chicken breast, and imagine yourself on the terrace of an Italian villa, perhaps next to some dark and handsome local who hardly speaks any English but whispers sweet nothings to you in Italian to make you forget about all of your cares and troubles. 

Okay, lest I lead you astray, this chicken recipe was not All That and a Bag of Chips. It was good, and I enjoyed it, but it does require some tweaking if it has any aspirations of sending its consumer toe the exotic small towns of Italy full of gorgeous Italian men. First, there is a long prep process, exacerbated by my own inability to properly pound chicken (re: you may not have such a difficult time here). Second, I believe I overcooked the chicken (which would be just about a first, with my tendency to gravitate toward the underdone side of things) - though I still find this hard to believe, as I cooked mine for 20 minutes when the recipe called for 30-40. Perhaps I browned it too long in the pan first, but definitely beware of that discrepancy if you make this before I have the chance to try it again to refine it.

This could pair very nicely with pasta or a side salad, though I simply served my roulades over a bed of the extra filling, as one of my low-carb meals of the week. Lastly, I cannot confirm how authentically Italian this is, but when I hear the word "Florentine" and then note a combination of parmesan, sundried tomatoes, and spinach, my brain goes to Italy - not that my brain needs too much persuading these days to take a mental trip there...

Chicken Florentine Roulade, courtesy of Healthy and Gourmet
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
4 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted with hot water, drained, and minced
1 package frozen, chopped spinach*
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano**
1 egg
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper to season
The Method
 Start by preparing the stuffing: add one-third of the oil (1 tablespoon) to a heated skillet, followed by the onion, garlic, and thyme to saute until the onions have begun to brown, approximately 3 minutes. Stir in the reconstituted tomatoes, cooking for another 3-5 minutes. Finally, add in the spinach and stir to combine before removing from the heat and adding in the parsley, bread crumbs, cheese, and egg. Mix well and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Moving onto the chicken, place one breast at a time on a cutting board to carefully butterfly, without cutting all the way through. Place the butterflied chicken between plastic wrap and pound to flatten to an even thickness, no more than 1/4-inch.

Once all of the meat has been pounded, begin to stuff each breast by spreading one-quarter of the stuffing mixture evenly onto the cutlet. Carefully roll each breast and place it seam-side down, securing with kitchen twine in three separate places on the roulade (middle, upper half, and lower half). If desired, season with salt and pepper.
Heat a skillet over medium heat along with the remaining oil, and place the chicken into the pan. Brown the roulades, 3-4 minutes on each side, until every side has been seared. Transfer the chicken to a baking dish and place in the oven for another 20-40 minutes, checking for doneness with a thermometer that registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Serve either whole or in slices, over a bed of pasta, greens, or extra filling.

*6 cups of fresh spinach can, alternatively, be used; simply chop it before adding to the spinach and allow for a slightly longer cooking time.
**Please, please, please (please!) use the real deal. I say this from experience - I don't know how many times I have used the canned Kraft stuff, and just cringed. As soon as that can is empty, I won't be going back. It's like...I don't even know what it's like, but it devalues the dish. It really doesn't do it justice. Buy the good stuff. Please. For the Love of Italy.

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