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Transform cheese-stuffed chicken into a guilt-free dish

By JIM ROMANOFF

Associated Press

Any meal that is golden and crunchy on the outside and oozes rich melted cheese from inside is bound to be a diet buster, right?

Not always. Though cheddar- and Gorgonzola-stuffed chicken breasts sounds like a health hazard, this recipe is totally reasonable.

To start with, boneless, skinless chicken breasts have almost no fat. Stuffing them with cheese changes that, so keeping it healthy is a matter of selecting the right cheeses. Reduced-fat cheeses on their own can be short on flavor and not melt well. But blended with a full-fat, intensely flavored cheese such as Gorgonzola, lighter cheeses work well to create a filling that's plenty melty and quite tasty.

Of course, breading and frying the stuffed breasts in half an inch of oil or more, as many of the traditional recipes call for, will put you over a day's recommended fat intake right off.

Instead, the cheese-stuffed chicken breasts here are dipped in egg whites, coated in bread crumbs, then browned in just a bit of oil swirled over the bottom of a skillet. Then the stuffed breasts are "oven fried" to cook them through and crisp the crumbs to a crunchy golden finish.

To compensate for the flavor that the frying oil would have given the breasts, the coating, made from seasoned bread crumbs, is amended with a prudent amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. To get the best flavor in your crumbs, use a high-quality cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano.

CHICKEN STUFFED WITH CHEDDAR, GORGONZOLA AND SPINACH

Start to finish: 40 minutes (20 minutes active)

Servings: 4

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to drain excess water

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 ounce shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

1 ounce crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat (about 1 pound)

1/3 cup seasoned Italian-style bread crumbs

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 large egg whites

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the spinach and Italian seasoning, then cook until all of the liquid has evaporated. Mix in both cheeses. Set aside.

One at a time, lay each chicken breast flat on a cutting board. Use a paring knife to make a horizontal slit along one side to create a pocket in the meat. Do not cut all the way through. Place a quarter of the cheese mixture in the pocket, then press the meat together over it. Repeat with the remaining breasts and set aside.

In a shallow dish or pie plate, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper. In another bowl, lightly beat the egg whites with a fork. Holding a stuffed breast together firmly, dip in the egg whites, then roll in the bread crumbs. Repeat with the remaining breasts and set aside.

In a large ovenproof skillet over high heat, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil until shimmering hot. Swirl the oil around the bottom of the pan and carefully add the chicken. Cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn breasts over and place the skillet in the oven. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink at the center, about 20 minutes.

Nutritional information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 296 calories (103 calories from fat, 35 percent of total calories), 11g fat (4g saturated, 0g trans fats), 79mg cholesterol, 11g carbohydrates, 37g protein, 2g fiber, 832mg sodium.

Transform cheese-stuffed chicken into a guilt-free dish 11/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 5:31am]

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