There are a few different components here, but everything is very easy to prepare and the finished dish would make an impressive dinner party main course. I always think cherries are better suited to savory than sweet dishes: here, they pair beautifully with tart vinegar and lemon juice, the addition of star anise complementing the basil in the chicken stuffing. Spelled is an underused ingredient, so here I’ve tried to showcase its ability to soak up flavorsome dressings while retaining a delightfully nutty bite. It is the perfect foil to the rich, tender chicken and molten goat’s cheese, accentuated by the sharp bite of the juicy, tangy cherry.
For the pickled cherries
200g cherries, halved and stoned
1 teaspoon light brown soft sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1-star anise, broken into pieces
a squeeze of lemon juice
For the chicken & stuffing
1 tablespoon rapeseed or olive oil
50g butter, softened, plus a knob of butter
1 small onion, very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
30g fresh breadcrumbs
125g soft goat’s cheese
25g basil leaves, finely shredded
4 skin-on, boneless chicken breasts
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the spelt salad
1.4 litres vegetable stock
300g pearled spelt
140g kale, shredded
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
1½ tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
40g pumpkin seeds
How To Instructions
First, make the pickled cherries. Put the cherries in a bowl and mix with sugar, salt, vinegar, star anise, and lemon juice. Set aside to macerate, stirring regularly.
For the chicken stuffing, in a small frying pan, heat the rapeseed oil and the knob of butter over a medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, until golden and soft. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the breadcrumbs and cook for 2–3 minutes, until everything is golden and toasted. Tip the lot into a small bowl and leave to cool. When cool, mash together with the goat’s cheese and basil leaves. Season well with salt and pepper.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Line a baking tray or roasting tin with baking parchment.
Put the 50g butter in a bowl, season it well with salt and pepper and mash it.
Using a sharp knife, slice a deep cut into the side of each chicken breast, lengthways, so you create a small pocket for stuffing – be careful not to cut all the way through. Arrange the chicken breasts on the baking tray and season well, inside and out. Stuff each breast with a quarter of the goat’s cheese stuffing, packing it as tightly as possible and closing the meat around it (as much as you can). Place the breasts in the tray, skin-side up.
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Smear the seasoned butter over the skin of each chicken breast. Place the roasting tin in the oven and cook for 30–40 minutes, basting the breasts occasionally with the buttery juices that accumulate in the base. The breasts are cooked when the juices run clear when the thickest part is pierced with a knife, and there are no pink bits (or when a meat thermometer shows 74°C).
While the chicken is in the oven, cook the spelled. Place the vegetable stock in a large saucepan and bring it to a boil over high heat. Add the spelled and cook for 17 minutes at a robust simmer, then add the shredded kale and cook for a further 3 minutes until the kale is tender. Drain everything in a colander and return the mixture to the pan (off the heat).
Whisk together the remaining salad ingredients, except for the pumpkin seeds, to make a dressing and add it to the pan with the spelled while the grains are still warm. Toss well to coat.
Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and toast, shaking the pan, until they start to pop. Tip the toasted seeds into the spelled salad and toss to mix. Keep the salad warm until the chicken is ready.
Serve the chicken breasts, hot from the oven, with the spelled salad and a spoonful or two of the pickled cherries and their juices.