ONE OF my most popular meals is Pollo Italiano. In fact, there's a lady so fond of the dish, every now and then she'll call suggesting I ask her over fot it.

The dish is an Americanized, Italian second-cousin of chicken kiev. Sort of. It's actually what the kiev would have been had it been able to shed its boots and run barefoot through clover-covered hills overlooking the Mediterranean. Mind you now, Pollo Italiano is by no means all roses, fresh breath and clover; it's got a sinister, hot-tempered side. And, it's got a taste that is delightful almost to the point of being criminal.

In terms of the effort that goes into the preparation of this dish, the rewards are astonishing: Providing that the butcher bones and pounds two whole chicken breasts (resulting in four halves) the entire operation will take about 15 minutes...and we're talking about a dinner for four with a salad and vegetable. See, it is criminal.

POLLO ITALIANO (4 servings) 3 medium scallions, chopped 1/2 slice prosciutto ham, finely minced 1 teaspoon celery seeds 1/4 teaspoon oregano 1/4 teaspoon sage 1/4 teaspoon sweet basil 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, softened 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper Salt and pepper 2 chicken breasts, boned and pounded (4 halves) 1 tablespoon butter 2 eggs Bread crumbs

Knead the scallions, proscuitto, celery seeds, oregano, sage, basil and garlic powder into the mozzarella. Divide the mozzarella into 4 equal parts and add a good stiff shot ( 1/4 teaspoon) of cayenne pepper to a small, random spot on each. Salt and pepper the breast halves to taste and add little chunks of butter to each. Flatten a section of mozzarella, lay it on a breast half and roll 'em up. Secure with toothpicks.

When all four are rolled up dip them in beaten egg and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Deep fry at 350 degrees for 5 minutes, or until done. Remove toothpicks.

As the chicken is frying, slice a tomato and onion for a salad. Red wine vinegar is a mouth tingling dressing. Steam some asparagus for a couple minutes with a little lemon juice squeezed over them.

Serve on a hot summer night with a cool white wine and try to keep from laughing when the others get "hit" with the cayenne.