Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Rustic Basil Pesto
Let’s talk about my first post-college dinner party.
It was the winter of 2010, and I was visiting my friend Maisie in DC. Having been traveling for the past several months (ahhh the “soul searching” phase) and staying with my mother during my pit stops, I was very impressed by Maisie’s living situation. She had a decently sized room in a pretty kickass townhouse in Logan Circle, and despite the fact that her roommates were strangers on the more socially awkward end of the spectrum, it just felt grown-up. Snaps for Maisie.
The house also had a very large and surprisingly fancy dining room, and as soon as I saw it, I was filled with a deep desire to “entertain. “ While this may sound characteristic given my current Martha Stewart-esque qualities, the urge to throw a dinner party was rather shocking at the time. (This was the pre-Cordon Bleu domestic dark ages, and my greatest culinary triumph to date was a “pizza panini” that I made illegally in my college dining hall’s toaster.) Despite our lack of cooking experience, Maisie and I decided to go for it. Like wearing heels during the day, dinner parties were an aspect of adulthood I was eager to embrace, and it was time to take the plunge.
Long story short, the dinner itself was a disaster. The menu of chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, pesto farfalle, and salad was solid, but we failed miserably in its execution. The pasta, which I smothered in an obscene amount of store-bought pesto, was on the more congealed side of things, and the chicken was charred beyond recognition (due to a healthy fear of killing our guests with Salmonella.) The salad was fine, I guess.
Our pathetic feast was served at least an hour behind schedule, which was unintentionally genius, as most of our guests were happily browned out by that point. People inhaled their dried chicken and pasta bricks with gusto and praised our domestic efforts with lovingly slurred phrases like, “I didn’t know you could even turn on an oven! You’re so domestic!” and, “This is so fancy!” Based on these compliments and our hangovers, Maisie and I deemed the party a raging success.
However, now that I have such excellent kitchen skillz, I cringe whenever I think about the aforementioned meal. (I was not domestic, and the food was not fancy.) So, to the friends that attended said fiesta, I’m sorry, and I’d like a virtual do-over. When people ask what you were served at my very first dinner party, please tell them it was Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Rustic Basil Pesto. I have a reputation to uphold.
WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!
I’ve been patiently waiting for the appropriate time to use that phrase, and that time is now, dammit. Honestly, these goat cheese stuffed chicken breasts deserve tears, chicken dancing, and perhaps a standing ovation of some sort. Each breast is stuffed with not one, but TWO layers of goat cheese, some of which magically melts into the chicken keeping it unbelievably juicy. The first cheesy infusion is nestled in the center of the chicken breast, and the second goes right underneath the skin, which gets beautifully browned and crisped in the oven. The goat cheese itself is seasoned with an unbeatable combination of garlic, fresh basil and little bit of lemon, giving each tender bite of chicken a tangy, herby goodness that will probably blow your mind.
In addition to crushing it on the flavor front, this chicken is also very sexy looking and remarkably versatile. Yes, it’s grown-up dinner party chicken, but it could also be graduation chicken, third date chicken, or engagement chicken. It’s promotion chicken. Good hair day chicken. “I love compliments” chicken. I could go on, but you get the point.
It’s the breast! (Sorry.)
Yes, these sassy stuffed chicken breasts are delightful as is, but the rustic basil pesto is the real rainmaker here. It arguably deserves its own post, but I chose to settle for a glamour shot and a couple paragraphs of shameless gushing. First of all, there’s no food processor or blender action required, which is awesome because a.) cleaning those things is the WORST, and b.) some of you do not own either appliance (this upsets me, but whatever). All you need to do is finely chop some toasted pine nuts, fresh basil and garlic, throw them in a bowl with a couple glugs of good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, and mix everything together. Done and done.
What I love most about this heavenly condiment is the texture. Chopping instead of pureeing the ingredients gives it a “rustic” vibe and adds an awesome nutty crunch to each glorious bite. Oh, and this cheese-less pesto is proudly vegan, so if you happen to be a vegan reading a chicken post (I love you), I highly suggest putting this pesto on everything from salads and grilled vegetables to tofu and toast. You’re gonna love it.
As far as preparation goes, Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Rustic Basil Pesto are much easier/less time consuming than they appear, people. The chicken takes 15 minutes (tops) to perfectly stuff, and it can easily be prepped up to a day in advance. I know you may be nervous about stuffing chicken, but it’s not nearly as gross and scary as you think. (Just follow the unappealing fabulous raw chicken tutorial below!) Whip up the pesto while the chicken is in the oven, and bing bang BOOM. Fancy chicken miracle.
I like to serve this chicken with a simple arugula salad or some grilled/roasted asparagus (because it’s beach season, duh), but feel free to get some potatoes, pasta or grains involved for a heartier meal. You do you.
Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Rustic Basil Pesto: (Serves 4)
4 ounces soft goat cheese
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
4 medium bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
½ lemon, thinly sliced
For the Rustic Basil Pesto:
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped (you can also use almonds or pistachios if you prefer)
1 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced/grated/pressed
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Preparing your Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Rustic Basil Pesto:
-Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
-In a small bowl combine the goat cheese, garlic, basil, red pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil. Taste and season with a little bit of salt if necessary.
-Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels.
-Now it’s time to stuff these breasts. Loosen the skin from each breast by running your finger underneath it. Be careful here peeps, you want to make sure the skin stays connected at the edges.
-Use a sharp knife to cut a deep slit into each breast. It should be about 3 inches long and 1½ inches deep. Do NOT go all the way through the breast, capiche? You want to make a nice little pocket in the chicken. (I know that sounds gross.)
-Spoon a tablespoon of goat cheese into the slit of each chicken breast, pushing it as deep as possible. Close the slit over the cheese with your fingers. (If you’re nervous about your stuffing job, you can always use a toothpick or two to hold the chicken together.
-Spoon a second tablespoon of goat cheese under the skin of each chicken breast.
-Smooth the skin over the top, making sure the cheese is evenly distributed.
-Place the stuffed chicken breasts into a baking dish. Rub the skin of each breast with a little bit of olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
-Place two thin slices of lemon on top of each breast.
-Bake for 30 minutes until the skin is lightly browned and the chicken is cooked through. (If you’re scared of undercooking, whip out your handy meat thermometer and insert it into the thickest part of the breast and make sure that it read 165 degrees F.)
-While your chicken is in the oven, prepare your rustic pesto. Heat a medium skillet/pan over medium heat (with no oil). When hot, add the pine nuts and toast for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant.
-Finely chop pine nuts and place them in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients for the pesto and mix until well combined. Done.
-Serve your goat cheese stuffed chicken breasts topped with rustic basil pesto and graciously accept compliments on your very fancy culinary skills.
God, these are fancy.
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