Chicken Involtini Part II: Collard greens, feta, pine nuts, & bacon

See also Chicken Involtini Part I: Apple & Bacon

As we were making up our recipes for the involtini we found that a lot of them called for spinach. We wanted to make the most of the ingredients we had on hand and we still had a bunch of collard greens from our CSA box, a fitting, if not obvious, substitute for fresh spinach. Most people think that collard greens need to be cooked for hours in a pot of water with a lot of smoked pork, but eating the greens raw, or just blanched, is a wonderful way to enjoy the big flavors of this hearty green.

The filling, a Mediterranean-inspired mix of feta, raisins, pine nuts, and bacon, comes together with sweet salty crunchy goodness.

Mediterranean inspired Involtini

1 slice bacon
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
1/8 cup pine nuts
1/8 cup golden raisins
salt and pepper

4 large collard greens, stems removed (chard, kale, or spinach can also be substituted)

2 chicken breasts

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small shallot, minced
¼ cup vermouth
1-cup chicken stock
1-tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Fry the bacon in a small sauté pan over low-medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside to cool, once cool, crumble into small bits. In a small bowl combine bacon, feta cheese and pine nuts, season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Add water to a skillet filling it half-way up. Heat the water to a simmer and blanch the collard greens for 30 seconds to two minutes, or until the leaves are pliable. Dry on a clean towel.

Carefully butterfly the chicken breasts by cutting through the center of each as if you were opening a book. Do not cut all the way through. Open the breast and place between two sheets of plastic wrap. Using the flat end of a meat tenderizer or the flat bottom of a small sauté pan, gently, but firmly, pound the chicken breast between the plastic making sure to pull the mallet or pan away from the center of the breast toward the edges of the cutlet. Pound each breast until about ¼ to 1/8 inch thick. Season the inner part of the breast with salt and pepper.

Place two leaves on each breast and divide the filling between the two. Spread the filling evenly over each breast, leaving about ¼ inch on each side. Roll each breast starting with the thin end first, being careful that the filling does not fall out. If needed, secure the breasts with toothpicks to keep the filling in.

Fill and roll.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the chicken breast to the pan, presentation side down, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Be sure not to move the chicken breast until it releases from the pan on its own. Turn and sear on remaining three sides, each about 3-4 minutes. Place in the oven for approximately 10 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the involtini reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fry the involtini in a lot of oil to keep from sticking to the pan.

Remove involtini from the oven and transfer to a plate. If any cheese has dropped on to the skillet remove it. Place the skillet over medium heat, add the shallot and sauté for a couple of minutes or until translucent. Add the vermouth and scrap the bottom of the pan to get all the good bits from the bottom. Cook until almost evaporated then add the chicken stock and reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in the soft butter, and season with salt and pepper.

Slice involtini into one-inch thick rounds and serve with pan sauce.

Mustard Greens

Eat your green veggies.

Steve’s first taste of cooked greens came in the late-‘80s. They were prepared in a modest home somewhere in central Florida (Tampa? Ruskin?) and they were amazing. It would be years after those first tastes before he rediscovered collard and mustard greens. Our diets improved dramatically when we moved to San Francisco in the mid‘90s in part because we started including fresh, bold greens into our grocery routine thanks to all the ease of access created by the purveyors in our neighborhood. And unlike the way greens are cooked in the South, long and slow, when you cook them the California way, they’re a quick sauté, spending time on heat just long enough to become a little tender while still chewy.

Mustard greens are sharp with their peppery, spicy and slightly bitter flavors – perfect with olive oil, garlic and chili pepper flakes. These greens are real “super food” that delivers impressive quantities of vitamins and minerals in a single serving. They’re delicious added to hearty soups and clear broth noodle soups. They can be baked in gratins or shredded and added to stir fry. We like them pan cooked in hot olive oil. They retain their bite and their herbaceousness when cooked quickly at high heat until just wilted.

Pan wilted greens make a perfect side to rich meat dishes. The astringent greens cut nicely through the sweet puree adorning the roast as well as the cheesy polenta that we served with it.

Sauted Greens

1 bunch mustard greens, kale, or chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large garlic clove
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Wash the leaves and remove the stems. The stems can be used in the sauté, or frozen for another use, or composted. If using the stems, cut into small pieces and sauté for 5 minutes before proceeding.

Roll the leaves together and cut into 1” ribbons. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. Smash the garlic and cut into large pieces (at the stems at this point if you’re using them, add to the hot oil, cook for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant, along with the red pepper flakes if using and cook for 10 seconds then add the greens. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, turning with tongs. Add a little water, about 2-3 tablespoons, to the pan along with the greens to avoid burning the garlic. Cover the pan with a lid and cook for another 5 minutes. Check the pan often and add more water if necessary to make sure the pan doesn’t dry out. Check the salt and pepper and re-season if necessary.