You guys. I’ve made a lot of pasta salads in my day. After all, they’re a great ‘garbage bin’ for anything you need to get rid of in your fridge. But this pasta salad might be one of my favorites that I’ve ever made. I made this for an early lunch on Sunday, and ended up eating it as a snack and for dinner too — it was that good. After all, how can fusilli with a homemade sun-dried tomato pesto, roasted chicken, crunchy veggies, and fresh herbs be bad?
The great thing about this (and many other) pasta salads is that it’s super versatile. You can serve it warm, or chilled, and easily make it ahead of time if needed. This would be perfect at a potluck, a Super Bowl party, a bridal or baby shower, or even just as an easy weeknight meal (that you can take to work for a few days after!). And of course, as far as ingredients go, anything can be substituted or removed. Don’t eat meat? Nix the chicken. Don’t eat gluten? You can actually nix the pasta — I tried this first as a chicken salad before adding the noodles, just out of curiosity, and it was still crazy delicious.
This recipe looks like it has a lot of ingredients, but I promise you, it’s very simple. I recommend starting with the chicken first, and while it cooks, you can prep everything else. Easy as pie — or pasta salad:
PASTA SALAD WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATO PESTO, CHICKEN, AND RADICCHIO
One of my favorite aspects of this salad is how well the sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes pairs with the bitterness of the radicchio and parsley. If you’re not used to using radicchio or whole parsley leaves, give it a try! You might be surprised at how good it is.
For the chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.25 lbs)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the pesto (makes about 2.5 cups):
2 10-oz jars of sun dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 sprigs oregano, leaves stripped
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (may need more or less)
For the salad:
1 small head or 1/2 medium head purple radicchio, cored and roughly chopped (yields about 2 cups of shredded radicchio)
2 orange bell peppers, seeded, and large diced
1 bunch scallions, roots cut off, and thinly sliced (use both white and green)
1/2 cup loosely packed parsley leaves, cleaned and left whole
1 box whole wheat fusilli pasta (I used a 13.25oz box of De Cecco, but you could use penne, farfalle, or any shape you want)
8oz fresh mozzarella (not packed in water), cubed
Preheat your oven to 375º. Place the chicken breasts in a shallow baking dish, and drizzle 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil over them. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through but still tender and juicy.
While the chicken is cooking, prep the pesto. In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients except for the 6 tbsp of olive oil. When removing the tomatoes from their jars, it’s okay if you get some of the oil from the jar in the food processor, but don’t dump all of the oil from the jar in. I chose not to do this so I could use mostly my own olive oil in the pesto, which I thought would taste fresher. Pulse the mixture until the tomatoes are roughly chopped, then add in the fresh olive oil and blend. You should end up with a chunky pesto that’s still spreadable. If it seems too rough, add a little more olive oil and blend again.
In a large bowl, combine the radicchio, peppers, scallions, and parsley leaves. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, and cook the pasta according to package directions. While it cooks, your chicken should finish baking; remove it from the oven, and dice it into large cubes. Add to the bowl with the vegetables. Add in 2 cups of the sun-dried tomato pesto, and fold to combine.
Once the pasta finishes cooking, drain it in a colander and quickly rinse it. Do not rinse it so that it is cold; it can still be slightly warm, you just don’t want it to feel scalding. Add the pasta to the bowl and toss with all the ingredients, being sure to distribute the pesto evenly on the noodles. Gently fold in the mozzarella (I add this last so that it doesn’t melt everywhere and get messy). Serve immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge!
Note on the cheese: I used a fresh ball of mozzarella that was tightly packed in plastic, not water. Mozzarella packed in water will be too soft for this salad. If you can’t find fresh mozzarella that’s not packed in water, you can substitute pasteurized mozzarella cut into cubes, or any other cheese you want (feta could be good!).
Variations: If you want to serve this as a chicken salad, omit the noodles, and reduce the amount of pesto used by half. You may also omit the cheese for a dairy free version, or the cheese AND the noodles for a paleo friendly chicken salad!
Images by Victoria McGinley for vmac+cheese