Stuffed with feta, garlic and sage, rolled in bacon, crisped in a hot pan and then finished off in a buttery tomato sauce, these chicken-breast rolls make a delicious family meal. Okay, they do involve a little fiddling, but I reckon it's worth the effort. This is a low-carb recipe suitable for diabetics, or for anyone on a #LCHF regime.
Chicken breasts, being so lean and light, feature on our family menu at least twice a week, but I have to say that a single deboned chicken breast is not nearly enough to satisfy the appetite of a teen who has grown so tall I have to stand on a ladder to lecture him.
What he really needs is several thick ropes of fillet steak - heck, a whole cow - every week, but as these are beyond our family budget, I'm always looking for ways to stretch the common-or-garden (and shockingly expensive) breast of a chicken.
You can use ordinary tinned tomatoes for this sauce, but good, deep-red plummy Italian ones will make the difference. I buy tinned tomatoes in bulk (along with superb olive oil, vinegar, olives, pasta and polenta) from the excellent Italian supermarket Super Sconto, in Norwood, Johannesburg.
Leave the cream out if you are watching your weight. No, on second thoughts, leave the cream in. The combination of cream and tomatoes is sublime.
6 deboned, skinned chicken breasts
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil, plus extra for frying
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 'wheels' (about 200 g) feta cheese
12 slices streaky bacon
salt and milled black pepper
18 fresh sage leaves
chopped parsley, to garnish
For the tomato sauce:
4 Tbsp (60 ml) butter
1 large onion, peeled and very finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 x 210 g tins good Italian canned tomatoes, chopped, plus their liquid
1 x 8 cm sprig fresh rosemary
½ cup (125 ml) dry white wine
salt and milled black pepper
½ cup (125 ml) cream
a little water, to thin
First make the tomato sauce. Melt the butter over a medium flame, add the onion and cook gently for 4-5 minutes, or until it's soft and just beginning to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute, without allowing it to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, rosemary and wine, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer gently for 30-45 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Fish out the sprig of rosemary, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream, a tablespoon or two at a time to prevent the sauce from curdling. If the mixture seems too thick and gloopy, thin it with a little water. At this point, you can liquidise the mixture using a food processor or stick blender, but I prefer it slightly chunky. Set aside.
While the sauce is cooking, prepare the chicken. Place a breast between two large sheets of clingfilm [saran wrap]. Using a rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle), gently bash it so it flattens out to about 5 mm thick. Don't smack it too hard, or it will break apart into strings: a gentle, persistent pounding, starting from the middle and working outwards, is the way to go. Repeat with the remaining breasts.
In a little bowl, mix together the olive oil and crushed garlic. Cut the feta cheese into batons that are about as thick as your ring finger, and three-quarters its length. Toss the feta pieces in the olive oil and garlic mixture. Place two strips of streaky bacon on a chopping board, about 1 cm apart. Lay a flattened chicken breast crossways on top of the bacon strips. Place a baton of oil-and-garlic coated feta on the breast, add two sage leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Starting from the side closest to you, pick up the edge of the breast and the bacon strips and roll into a neat, tight bundle. Tie two lengths of kitchen string crossways around each bundle, tuck a large sage leave under the strings, and trim away the excess string. Repeat with the remaining breasts.
Heat a big pan over a medium-high heat and add a splash of olive oil. When the oil is very hot - but not smoking - add the chicken rolls and brown them - about a minute and a half a side - until the bacon is crisp. Drain any excess fat from the pan. Now pour the reserved tomato sauce over the chicken rolls, turn down the heat, cover the pan with a tilted lid and simmer very gently for 7-10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked right through but still very tender. If you're not certain it's cooked, make a sneaky cut on the underside of the thickest breast: if there is no trace of pink, it's done.
Serve hot, topped with chopped parsley and a swirl of olive oil. Lovely with crunchy potato wedges and a green salad.