Pass the Prosciutto >> Florentine Memories (stuffed chicken breast recipe)


>>>>> A very big Asante Sana (thanks a lot!) to Parma Ham for this sponsored post

Firenze, 2003. My first international trip alone, for a summer study program of Italian language and culture. Which meant language class in the mornings and exploring Florence in the afternoons. Oh, and food and dancing in the evenings, of course, which were the universally agreed-upon, unofficial coursework.


I don’t remember a lot of Italian language anymore–that brain space seems to have been crowded over with other semi-useless information, such as how long Challerhocker cheese ages for and the translation of items on a Chinese dim sum menu. Eh, priorities. What I do distinctly remember, however, were my first tastes in Florence. I don’t have the photos, but I have memories.

I remember, very vividly, the first caffè I stepped into, after checking my cobblestone-destroyed bag into a hostel. That cavernous, industrial-looking caffè—before the industrial-looking cafe/bar was a thing in the US. The long, marble, L-shaped bar, stacked two deep with Italians ordering their morning shots of coffee like stockbrokers brokering on Wall Street. I like to think that I faked it well enough as I boldly strode through the crowd of italians, ordering a macchiato—which, up until that point, I thought was a sweet, frothy, rich drink (a la starbucks’ Caramel Macchiato). Anyway, I savored my first sip of jarringly potent milk-dotted espresso, and lingered that morning far longer than any other Italian. So much for faking it.



After getting sufficiently buzzed off the one shot of Italian espresso, I wandered the streets of Florence, beginning what is becoming a lifetime of getting lost in foreign cities. Back and forth random streets, sometimes accidentally on the same street as before. I noted many a sidewalk cafe, bakeries, delis, more coffee shops. And many sidewalk sandwich storefronts. On my long meandering walk, I made sure to note the selections of each of these and the varying degrees of freshness of their offerings. Not that I could have found my way back—not intentionally, at least, not yet. After much thought and deliberation, I picked one vendor, and from him I ordered a panini in my broken, level-2-of-American-University Italian. Prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, and olive oil, smushed between a piece of bread that had been cut lengthwise through the middle. Not grilled, like they do to the panini in the US, but fresh, like the do the panini in Italy. The olive oil was so liberally poured into the sandwich that the wax paper wrapped around the sandwich started to weep with a yellowish-greenish hue.

The sandwich was crudely re-wrapped in another sheet of white wax paper, and for several Euro, it was all mine. I was handed the sandwich and a few napkins; not even a paper bag to take away. I can’t tell you where I stayed that night, or the names of two of my roommates on the program that summer, but I do remember that sandwich, for its rich and fruity olive oil, the meaty yet pillowy mozzarella, the spicy arugula—but most of all, because of that prosciutto, my first real taste of prosciutto.



Ever since, I’ve been a sucker for cured meats, prosciutto in particular. I was excited when Honest Cooking invited me to participate in this little project, which asked nothing more than to use Prosciutto di Parma in a dish. I’ve settled with a great recipe that I’ve recently invented, which works well for a dinner for two or a dinner for ten. For larger parties, you can do most of the work ahead of time, holding off until your guests arrive to pop it into the oven for the last 25 minutes to finish off.


This recipe takes a classic French-inspired American favorite, the Chicken Cordon Bleu, and adds an Italian twist. Swirled with prosciutto di parma, mozzarella cheese, and baked with tomato sauce, it really does encapsulate the flavors that I tasted not only on my first day in Florence, but throughout that summer in Italy.


Follow Parma Ham on Twitter for a chance to win $50 worth of the world’s most famous ham. Click on the banner below to participate. This post is a collaboration between Peeps From Abroad and Parma Ham.

Win Parma Ham


My Florence, aka: Chicken rolls with Prosciutto, Spinach, and Mozzarella

  • 4 skewers, for holding the chicken rolls together.
  • 4 large individual boneless chicken breasts, about 16-20 oz. (500g)  **if you’re able to swing it, buy the breasts in twos, still connected in the middle, like are available at my butcher shop here. Ask for the breasts to be butterflied by your butcher or meat counter
  • 1 bunch spinach, about 3 cups of leaves, packed
  • 4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 20 slices prosciutto, approx. 3.5-4 oz
  • 1 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  1. First, soak 4 small skewers in water to use later. Preheat oven to 380°F.
  2. Prep the chicken breasts. Rinse and pat breasts dry. Place a cutting board over a kitchen towel on the counter, then lined with 2 layers of saran wrap. Place 2 individual chicken breasts side by side in the center, just slightly overlapping. Cover with another long piece of saran wrap. Using a meat hammer, mallet, or my weapon of choice–last night’s wine bottle–pound the meat flat, until only about 1/8-inch thick. Some parts of the chicken may be thinner than others and some may rip, but don’t worry about this. Just make sure the middle stays together.
  3. Remove the top layer of saran wrap temporarily, adjusting parts where necessary, and season liberally with up to 1/2 teaspoon of salt and plenty of ground pepper. Replace saran wrap and transfer the entire thing (both layers of saran wrap and all) onto a large baking sheet. Repeat with second set of breasts.
  4. Transfer the baking sheet with both pounded breasts to the freezer. This will firm up the meat a little and make it easier to “stuff” and roll later on.
  5. Now prep the filling. First, shred mozzarella and set aside.
  6. Next, slice the onion and red bell pepper into long thin pieces. In a saute pan, heat about 1 Tbsp. olive oil until hot and add onions. Cook for 3 minutes, and add bell pepper. Cook for another 7 minutes, until onion and bell pepper mixture turn completely soft.
  7. While the onion and bell peppers finish cooking, boil a small pot of water. When water is boiling, drop in spinach for about 45 seconds. Strain, and rinse under cold water. Squeeze dry–you’ll only have a handful after it’s boiled down–and chop.
  8. Set up your ingredients around a large cutting board, keeping everything at hand, including the skewers. Working one at a time, take the pounded breasts out of the freezer and transfer to the cutting board. Align the meat so the longer side is towards you, discard the top layer of saran wrap. Layer 10 pieces of prosciutto (or 1-2 ounces) directly on top of this layer of chicken. Next, on the leftmost two-thirds of the chicken, spread half the onion and red pepper mixture, patting down and leaving about a 1/2-inch border. Place half of the chopped spinach on top, also patting down, and then a couple heaping tablespoons of mozzarella cheese, also patting down (check out that gif below, woooohoo!).
  9. Turning the chicken and stuffing counter-clockwise 90° so the end with the stuffing is closer to you, begin to roll. As you roll, you may peel the chicken away from the saran wrap meanwhile tucking the bottom end tightly like you are rolling a yoga mat (I’m assuming here that this makes sense). Make sure to keep the ingredients compact as you go. You can use the saran wrap to lift up the breast and make it easier to roll over itself. After the first tuck or two of meat, fold in the left and right sides so your filling doesn’t completely fall out of the sides (this doesn’t have to be perfect). Because you’ve popped the meat in the freezer, this should hold a little easier. Continue rolling, as tightly as you can, keeping mind of the sides too. When you reach the end, use the skewers to hold the rolled chicken. If you don’t have skewers, you can use toothpicks, otherwise just carefully place the meat seam-side down.
  10. In a cast iron skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil. When oil is hot, place chicken (seam side down) in the pan. Sear for two minutes until browned, then use tongs to roll over. Sear for two more minutes, flip, and repeat one last time.
  11. Coat both breasts with tomato sauce and, if you wish, sprinkle a couple ounces of additional shredded cheese over the top. Cover with a lid and bake for 25 minutes.


psst- remember when I talked about simple recipes a couple days ago? Yeah, this is a perfect example of one that’s NOT.

NORTH Festival >> Finnish Pulla Bread Recipe, and a little home cooking

Finnish Pulla

>> This is a SPONSORED POST brought to you by Honest Cooking and the NORTH Festival

If it’s something I’ve learned from these years of living abroad, it’s that ‘home’ means something a little different to everyone. To my dear husband, this might very will be his home icon on his trusty desktop iMac more than anything else, in which he can get lost in for hours at a time. But for me? It’s my kitchen, and everything in it, that makes my heart at ease, telling me I’m home.

My pals at Honest Cooking are hosting the NORTH Food Festival in October in NYC, a place I once called home. The NORTH Food Festival focuses a much-deserved spotlight on the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), Iceland, and Finland. They’ve asked me to write up a little something about the foods of Finland, and because I’ve been so enraptured with what home cooking means to me, to you, to everyone these days, I immediately wanted to bring a little taste of Finland home to the table.

Finnish Pulla Bread Prebaked IMG_1770

So I started writing: Finland. Salmon. Salmon Roe. Dill. Cured fish. Licorice. Snow. Fish. Blonde People. Good healthcare. Getting off track, drat. Fish. Chives? Dill. Fish.

And as I read over my freshly brainstormed word-association exercise on Finland, I realized, though Nordic cuisine is making its name in the culinary world today the individual restaurants and chefs stand out more than the countries’ cuisines themselves. And though a restaurant can certainly represent a country’s cooking, home cooking usually reveals even more.

I am very very lucky that I have a friend who has ties (namely, a wife) to Finland. And I suppose you, dear reader, are lucky too, for I fear that had it not been for this generous couple you all would be looking at yet another, predictable, smoked salmon and dill recipe. Google might have led me somewhere slightly more adventurous, but it certainly wasn’t going to tell you what its favorite dish growing up was.


I took some time with my New Yorker friend Andrew and his Finnish wife Jenny. Jenny, pronounced with the Swedish J sound, which is to say it’s pronounced like a Y, almost like Yenny (insert Anchorman “yogging” jokes here). The two had long since left their respective home cities, making do with whatever “home” cooking meant while living overseas. When I met Andrew, Jenny had recently moved back to Finland with the kids, and he was soon to join her. Via a combination of in-person meetings and emails, the two provided a beginner’s briefing on the basics of Finnish cuisine starting with Aquavit and ending with reindeer, with some licorice scattered in between. Yes, there was some familiar territory covered (fish, dill, saunas), but rather happily, I was surprised by most of the new information they offered. We covered a lot, more than this one post can sum up, but most interesting to me (and what I’m sharing here today) are the foodways that, to Jenny, mean home.



Like with any other cuisine, to understand the food of a culture, one must first reckon with its geography. Finland is the Easternmost Nordic country, and at it’s Southernmost tip sits its capitla, Helsinki. From here, Sarah Palin could see Russia better than from her backporch, as well as Estonia and Sweden. The East, not privy to oceanfront views, is largely influenced by its Russian neighbors. Home cooking here means meat stews and stuffed pastries. It’s a completely different culture than the West, which shares its boders with Sweden as well as the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea. From their language to their methods of fish preparations, Swedish Finns dominate the population. And then there is the North, the wild wild west, if you will, were you’ll find an inuit-like culture of reindeer herders.
Like our own United States, and expelling all previous assumptions about the country, finding one “national dish” of Finland was more difficult that I had anticipated.


As an American whose youth was dominated by sliced sandwich bread, proving as exotic as Orowheat 9-grain bread, I’m not exactly the most cultured of bread conniseurs. The culture of bread in Finland, however, is engrained in each citizen’s very being. Bread is an important mainstay in everyday Finnish life, both in the country and in cities. Jenny explains to me that when visiting a grocery store in Finland, you’re faced with dozens of options of bread. “I don’t mean different like bagels are different in that some have sesame seeds and some have onion on them,” says Jenny, “but different because they use different grains (usually rye, wheat, oats and barley in varying combinations), different spices, and have different consistencies”. The average New Yorker has a hard time deciding to choose between onion and sesame bagels.


I was very surprised to hear that the Finns drink more coffee per capita than any other nation. An average Finn will drink 7 cups of coffee per day!
They’re not just addicted to the caffeine, though. The act of drinking and of having coffee time with friends and family is just as, if not even more, important as inviting them in from the cold. “You can’t go to a meeting or visit someone’s home without being offered coffee here”, Jenny says. “At work the coffee break is often when you chat to your colleagues and often birthday parties, christenings and, in it’s simplest form, weddings, are celebrated with coffee and something sweet. The pastries served along with coffee can be anything (but often it is the pulla…). In many situations, offering coffee is a way of showing hospitality.” Much like tea time in the UK, it’s rude to invite guests and not offer a cup, accompanied by a bit of bread or cookie.


Andrew and Jenny both described to me how the restaurant culture in Finland is experiencing a similar boom as in the U.S., and I imagine that traditional, home-style eating is being challenged as a result. Typical, heavy foodstuffs- meant to satiate a northern family during long cold winters- are being replaced by lighter, delicate fare, and more innovative methods of preparation. Beautifully crafted, minimal presentations run consistent with scandinavian design. (Note: if you’re in New York, you can check this out for yourself at restaurants like ACME or Isa. Or, grab some tickets to the NORTH festival!) Andrew said, “What else I found is surprising, is this new culture of fusion foods…Fusion foods is a new things, that’s what you’re seeing in these newer restaurants…Nordic and Pan-Asian.”



Here in my home kitchen in Dar es Salaam, I’ve been thinking a lot about these home-y traditions from Finland. To celebrate, I’m going to focus on the traditions of the Swedish-Finns, invite some friends over for coffee, and treat them to some Pulla bread. In the Spirit of the Nordic Food Festival, since I won’t be able to make it to NY in October, I’ll have a little taste of Finland in my own home. I invite you to do the same.

Pulla Coffee Bread

adapted from the Finnish Cookbook
  • 1 package (8 grams) active dry yeast
  • 2 cups (500 ml) milk, heated and then cooled to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (165 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 green cardamom pads, toasted, seeded, and ground.
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 8 cups (1.23 kg) white AP flour
  • 1/2 cup (90 grams) melted butter
  • For brushing on top of bread:
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2-3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cups raw almonds, chopped
  1. Heat the milk in a small saucepan on medium-high heat. Before the milk comes to a full boil, take the pan off the stove and allow the milk to cool slightly. Ladle 4 Tbsp of the milk and mix in yeast, dissolving completely. In a large bowl, combine along with milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and 1 cup of the flour to make a runny batter. Beat until the dough is smooth.
  2. Add 2 more cups of flour and mix well. The dough should be smooth and glossy at this point. Add in melted butter, and stir well. Continue until dough is glossy, then add in the rest of the flour until a stiff dough forms. Use your hands to gather the dough into a ball shape. Do not knead too much, to avoid overworking the bread.
  3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and cover with the same bowl. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
  4. After 15 minutes, knead the dough, until smooth and satiny (5-10 minutes). Coat a bowl or a large dutch oven with vegetable oil, and gently transfer the dough into the bowl. Turn once so the dough is fully coated. Cover with a towel and place in an oven (turned off) so it may rise at a draft-free temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  5. Punch down a few times, then allow to rise again until doubled- about 30 more minutes.
  6. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 3 portions, and then divide each of these into three more portions (so you have 9 total). Shape each into a long log, about 16 inches long. On strips of parchment paper, braid 3 strips together into a loaf, pinching the ends and tucking them underneath.
  7. Transfer the three loaves onto baking sheets, cover with a tea towel, and let rise for 20 minutes. The braids should be slightly puffy, but not doubled in size.
  8. In the meantime preheat the over to 400 F. Chop almonds, or pulse in a food processor for 3-5 minutes until fairly fine (You can also leave them in larger chunks, it’s up to you).
  9. After 20 minutes, glaze the loaves by brushing them with a beaten egg, and sprinkle with refined sugar and crushed almonds.
  10. Bake in a hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes, at 400 F. The bread will turn a beautiful golden brown, which is the ultimate signal to take them out of the oven. It’s preferable to under-bake as opposed to over-bake, less you prefer dry bread (no!), so err on the side of caution if you think they might be done.
  11. Serve warm. Keep any remainder loaves, uncut, stored in an airtight container for a few days, or wrap in airtight bags and freeze.
yield: 3 loaves


Learn more about Nordic cuisine at the NORTH Festival 2013 in New York City. This post is a collaboration between Peeps From Abroad and NORTH Festival 2013.


If this recipe and information piqued your interest, check out other NORTH festival-sponsored Bloggers and their recipes, hailing from Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland. I’ll go out on a limb and say that pancakes are going to be the next cronut!


Swedish Pancakes from Omeletta
Kanellbular (Swedish cinnamon buns) from Itsy Bitsy Foodies


Æbleflæsk (apple and pork) Bites from Shared Appetite
Frikadeller (meatballs) from Dawn of Food
Dill & Cheese Popovers from Eat Already
Kammerjunker (twice baked biscuit cookies) from Hungry Face
Rugbrød & Smørrebrød (rye bread & open faced sandwich) from GirliChef
Kærnemælkskoldskål (cold buttermilk soup) with Kammerjunker from Countlan Magazine


Pancakes from Anecdotes and Apples
Lamb Chops with Blueberry Balsamic Reduction from From Brazil to You
Astarpungar (blueberry lemon “Love Balls”) from Tasty Trix 
Rúgbrauð (icelandic “thunder bread”) from Zesty South Indian Kitchen
Skyr Whipped Broccoli and Cauliflower by Fritos and Foie Gras
Plokkfiskur (Icelandic fish stew) by Chocolate and Chiles


Pancakes with Caramelized Apples from Greens n Chocolate
Smoked Potatoes from Carly
Smoked Salmon and Potato Tartine from Blogging Over Thyme

NORTH Festival

Big News

Hi everyone, I’m so so so excited this morning to share with you a bit of news that’s been in the works for awhile (no, I’m not pregnant, mom).

It’s the Honest Cooking tablet magazine!!

honest cooking cover

A little more than a year ago I started contributing to the Honest Cooking website, a forum for food writers and bloggers from around the world to share fun recipes and interesting food stories. Last summer, it was announced that Honest Cooking would be releasing a food magazine – and all contributing writers were welcome to submit. Up until that point, I had been working on writing pieces for relatively unknown expat magazines and tiny blogs. Somehow I had to get serious about turning writing into a career, and here was the perfect opportunity.

I pitched two pieces, one of which got picked up. Truth be told, I think I was on the B-team, as the email received told me that someone else had backed out and I was chosen to fill in last minute. The email asked if I could do it.

cosentino article feature

Umm, let’s see. Fly back to California last minute for four days, spending half of what I would make for the article, to make a deadline that was due within a week? YES, PLEASE!

Half a year later, I’m so excited to report that my work is in print – er, on the screen. The tablet magazine was released today, and it’s 100 pages of glorious food stories – about rogue artisans, local craftsmen, international cuisines, and nitty gritty profiles, all testaments to why food and dining rock.

Download the tablet magazine, FOR FREE, in the Apple iTunes store today!

Also click here to check out all the images from my trip to the orchard!