This is a fantastic dish for entertaining. Not only is it delicious, the overlapping pancetta topping the chicken makes a gorgeous mosaic design (it’s one of the ways I modified the original recipe). And most of the preparation can be done hours, or even a couple days, ahead of time.
• 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
• 1/4 c. kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
• 2 c. ricotta, whole milk preferred, or substitute 1 c. fresh goat cheese for half the ricotta
• 3/4 c. cooked chopped spinach
• 1 T. lemon juice
• 1 tsp. minced garlic, or to taste
• 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
• 1/2 c. freshly grated parmagianno reggiano or similar type cheese
• 3/4 c. minced prosciutto or other ham
• Freshly ground pepper to taste
• 12 paper thin slices rolled pancetta, or substitute very thinly sliced bacon
• Approximately 1 c. chicken stock
• Approximately 1 c. dry white wine or vermouth
• 6 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into bits
• Coarsely chopped fresh parsley, preferably flat-leafed, for garnish, optional
Place the ¼ c. salt in a large resealable plastic bag and add 4 c. cool or cold water. Seal the bag and shake gently until the salt dissolves. Add the chicken, press out as much air as possible, then refrigerate for 2 hours.
In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, lemon juice, garlic nutmeg, cheese, and proscuitto. Season to taste with salt and pepper; divide into 6 equal portions.
Drain the chicken breasts, then pat dry with a paper towel. Place each breast between sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap and pound to an equal thickness (approximately ½ inch) with a mallet or heavy skillet. It’s OK if there are some ragged edges.
Shape a portion of the ricotta mixture into a flat oval in the middle of each piece of a flattened breast and fold the sides and ends over to make a package that will look a little like a baking potato, tucking in any ragged ends. It needn’t be completely sealed. They can be made a day or two ahead at this point, put into the baking vessel (see below), tightly covered and refrigerated. Bring back to room temperature before continuing.
Preheat the oven to 450º. Lightly butter an ovenproof/stovetop-proof vessel that will comfortably hold the stuffed chicken breasts without crowding. (Use two vessels rather than one that’s too small.)
Place the chicken breasts, seam side down, in the container. Top with the pancetta slices, overlapping them slightly.
Pour in equal parts of chicken stock and wine so that the liquid comes up to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch in the baking pan. The pancetta should not be submerged.
Bake until the chicken is cooked but still moist and the stuffing is hot, basting occasionally to keep the pancetta from drying out and curling up, approximately 20-30 minutes depending on the chicken breasts’ size.
Remove the chicken breasts to a platter, cover, and keep warm.
Strain the pan juices or not, as you prefer. Place the pan(s) on the stove over high heat and reduce the liquid by about half. You will see and hear a change in the bubbles when it’s just right.
Remove the pan from the heat and let set until the bubbles have subsided. Whisk in the chilled butter, a few pieces at a time. The butter should emulsify into the liquid, but not completely melt, creating a creamy sauce. Season to taste.
Drizzle some sauce over the chicken breasts (I often serve them atop a wild rice or other pilaf), sprinkle with the parsley and serve; pass extra sauce on the side. Serves 6.