Jun 14, 2014 8:44 AM

An Oldie But Goodie: spinach & ricotta stuffed chicken breasts w/ chestnut mushroom marsala

My mother lives in Tamworth, NH and sources her butchered chicken from a farmer there. She inevitably buys too many; guess who's on the receiving end!

This 6+lb bird was heading for the oven as a roaster but a last minute decision to utilize some robust chestnut mushrooms that we picked up at a recent farmers' market led to it being broken down for its breast meat, to be stuffed with deliciousness and eaten rollatini style and bathed in a luxurious Marsala sauce.

My most local farmers' market (a mere mile up the road) provides great access to fresh mushrooms--both cultivated and wild. Chestnut mushrooms, which take 85 days to fruit compared to others that take only 17-19 days, are not only abundant from our source, but a beautiful deep chestnut brown in color, tasty, and super easy to turn into an extravaganza.

With a pound of them from Tuesday's market, it didn't take much convincing, then, to turn to a favorite in this household: stuffed chicken breasts with a silky mushroom Marsala sauce. It was a bonus that I had a brand new bottle of Marsala, and a double bonus that I happened to pick up a container of fresh ricotta from the market! Might as well go for the hat trick here: I also had spinach from Thursday's market and bacon in the freezer from our recent meat CSA pick-up. It's great when the stars align, isn't it?

Pre-harvest Chestnut mushrooms, as seen when growing under the watchful eyes at New Hampshire Mushroom Co.
Before starting on the chicken, get the first stage of the mushrooms going (recipe below).

The breasts from this corker of a chicken were quite large, so I cut them in half to create thick cutlets, then butterflied those pieces. With smaller chickens you might not want to push it. Season both sides with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, clean up your hands, and then move on to the filling.

Spread 2 heaping Tbsp of ricotta evenly over the four splayed pieces to just within a 1/2" of the edges. A handful of torn spinach leaves was piled on top of each ricotta-smeared breast, followed by sprinkles of crispy bacon bits (cooked while I worked on breaking down the chicken). A hint of nutmeg and a touch of salt completed the filling. When you're ready to roll, have your lengths of butcher string ready. Four 2'-long pieces for these "rollatini" will do it. There are great sources online for watching the technique of rolling stuffed breasts. Don't worry about perfect execution. You should know, too, that fresh ricotta won't ooze out. This particular filling is a very tidy filling--good for beginners.

Using the same pan that I cooked the bacon in (and the same, minimal fat created), only a touch of cooking oil was needed. Once at temp, the rolled up chicken breasts were eased gently into place and cooked, rotated to evenly cook all sides, for about 12-15 minutes. Thickness of butterflied poultry matters.

While the rollatinis are cooking, finish your mushroom sauce (recipe at bottom).

To serve, remove the twine and cut into 3/4" slices on the bias. Spoon an ample amount of the mushrooms and Marsala sauce all over the top. We added a homemade pilaf and some braised asparagus spears to our plates.

Release the hounds!

Mushroom Marsala Recipe:

1 pound Chestnut mushrooms, stems pulled apart (thick cluster ends removed)
4 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil (or local sunflower oil, which is nuttier in flavor)
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 c Marsala wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp fresh herbs, such as thyme or savory, chopped

1. Heat half of the butter and the Tbsp of oil in a large saute over medium-high heat. Chestnuts are super easy to work with. Just pull the stems apart, perhaps split the largest ones in half, and saute the whole load, stirring occasionally, over med heat for 7 or 8 minutes until they're softened and darkened. Season with salt & pepper, then set aside to cool a bit.

2. Turn the cooked mushrooms out into a bowl. Heat the remaining butter in the same pan until almost frothy. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk until a paste forms. Deglaze the pan with the Marsala, whisking the paste into a smooth consistency as you stir. Whisk in the stock and bring to a low boil. Once thickened, add the mushrooms. Add in chopped fresh herbs if you desire, or let it be. Check for seasoning.


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