Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Fresh Tomato Relish

This entry is part 23 of 83 in the series Gluten-Free

When you go to a restaurant and are served a perfectly formed spiral of meat and filling, or during the holidays you get a slice of the yule log or Buche de Noel, these are examples of roulades (roo-lawds). While they look incredibly difficult, they are simple to make. The hardest part is pounding the meat to an even thickness – but it’s a great way to work out your frustrations, LOL! This recipe uses boneless chicken breasts filled with a pesto sauce, but you could certainly use beef or pork as well. And of course you can use anything as a stuffing. How creative can you get? The sky’s the limit!

Today is an homage to the CIA of the food world, The Culinary Institute of America. Located in Hyde Park, NY, with branches in St. Helena, CA and San Antonio, TX, it was founded in 1946 as a vocational training school for returning World War II veterans. The faculty, over 140 instructors from more than 16 different countries, includes award-winning authors of books, magazines, and other published media, many who are graduates of the CIA themselves. Today the school turns out some of the world’s greatest chefs. Notable alumni include Eric Ripert, Todd English, Sara Moulton, Michael Chiarello, Michael Symon, Sherry Yard, Cat Cora, and Roy Yamaguchi.

The CIA publishes some of my favorite cookbooks and my shelves are full of their titles. Today’s recipe comes from the “Gourmet Meals in Minutes” cookbook, with more than 200 recipes, covers the fundamentals with many step-by-step photos to guide you. If you don’t live in New York and can’t attend the school, you can create your own at-home study program by working through the actual textbooks the students work from. Combine those with videos on the Internet and television cooking shows and you can get an idea of the grueling workload the student have.

The makings for pesto sauce

One of my favorite sauces is pesto. It tastes like summer even in winter. It is a blend of basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. If you have a food processor it is a snap to make. If you don’t, it takes a lot of elbow grease, which can be very satisfying. Basil is available all year long these days and you must use fresh basil to make pesto. If you have a gourmet grocery store nearby, you can usually find a freshly made pesto which is a great short cut if you don’t have the time to make your own.

I know that this is the middle of winter and good tomatoes can be hard to find, but most grocery stores sell imported tomatoes all year long. If the plum tomatoes don’t look good, try some cherry tomatoes. They often have better flavor than full-sized tomatoes during the off-season. While not nearly as flavorful as those at the height of summer, the tomato relish is still a delightful side dish, perfect for cutting the richness of the pesto. If can’t find anything fresh, some pickled vegetables or a bright salad with a vinaigrette would also be a nice accompaniment to the chicken.

Plating, the art of arranging food on a plate or platter before serving a meal, has never been my strong suit, but I constantly try to get better at it. Pretend that you are serving your meal in a restaurant, choose accompaniments that create a rainbow of color on your plate, and arrange the foods so that similar colors are separated. Don’t forget to buy a little extra basil when you are at the store to use as a garnish, which adds a pop of color and freshness. My mother always said a colorful plate is a healthy plate, and she was absolutely right!

Fresh plum tomatoes

Jane’s Tips and Hints:

The best plastic wrap for pounding meats that won’t fall apart is easily made from a zip-top plastic bag. Cut a gallon-size freezer zippered bag’s top and sides off, open it like a book, place the chicken inside, close “the book” and pound away!

Kitchen Skill: Making a Roulade

Use a flat piece of meat or pound it to an even thickness. Spread the center with the filling of your choice, often cheeses, herbs, or other meats. Roll into a log and secure with toothpicks or tie at intervals with butcher’s twine. Brown all sides in a little hot oil and then finish the cooking in a hot oven.

Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Tomato Relish
Yields 6
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  1. Tomato Relish
  2. 4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  3. 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  4. 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  5. 1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
  6. 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  7. Pesto
  8. 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  9. 2 packed cups basil leaves
  10. 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  11. 5 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  12. 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  13. 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  14. Chicken
  15. 2-1/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  16. 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  17. 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  18. 2 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
  1. Make Tomato Relish: Combine the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Refrigerate, covered, until chilled.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.
  3. Make Pesto: Combine the garlic, basil, lemon juice, zest, pine nuts, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the 1/4 cup olive oil in a thin stream until fully incorporated and a thick paste forms.
  4. Prepare Chicken: Holding your knife parallel to the cutting board and starting on the thicker side of the breast half, slice about half to 2/3 of the way through. Do not cut all the way through. Fold open the chicken and press flat. The chicken is now butterflied.
  5. Place the chicken breasts, cut side down, between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap (see Hint above). Pound to a 1/4-inch thickness using the smooth-side of a meat mallet. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap (or open “the book”). Spread each chicken breast with about 2 tbsp of the pesto mixture. Starting with the narrower end, roll each breast around the filling. Tie each breast with butcher’s twine or secure with toothpicks to prevent it from unrolling. Season with salt and pepper. Discard plastic.
  6. Heat the vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken until golden brown on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes total. Place the chicken in the oven and roast until cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  7. Remove the chicken from the oven and let stand 5 minutes. Remove and discard the string or toothpicks, and sliced each chicken breast on the bias (at an angle) into four pieces. Arrange the slices on individual plates and garnish with some of the tomato relish.
  8. Serve this with a wild rice or wheatberry pilaf and grilled or steamed vegetables.
Adapted from The CIA’s “Gourmet Meals in Minutes”
Adapted from The CIA’s “Gourmet Meals in Minutes”
The Heritage Cook ®
Unauthorized use, distribution, and/or duplication of proprietary material without prior approval is prohibited. I can be contacted via email at: heritagecook (at) comcast (dot) net. Feel free to quote me, just give credit where credit is due, link to the recipe, and please send people to my website,

Thank You!

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  1. says

    Although we all know of my disdain for the lowly chicken breast, I would eat gunpowder stuffed with pesto :) Looks great– love how your pesto stayed bright green during the cooking process!! Mine is frozen from my large summer batch, and it has lost its bright Kermit-green color. Oh well, still tastes divine :)