Pasta salads are one of my very favorite easy dishes for a big group. So, last week when my in-laws were in town and I was on food-delivery duty for a friend of mine who recently had a baby, I knew what was on the menu!
I've been wanting to try and replicate this pasta salad recipe from a local favorite deli here in Seattle, and I gotta say... I think I somehow nailed it. The flavors in this dish are pretty straightforward, with a great mix of textures and a lot of salty goodness (my favorite!).
Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad with Spinach & Pine Nuts // serves 4-6
- 16oz orzo pasta
- 1 large zucchini, thinly sliced
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1 grilled chicken breast, shredded
- ½ cup kalamata olives, halved
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- ¼ cup italian parsley, coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp capers
- 2 tbsp kalamata olive juice
- olive oil
- garlic powder to taste
With so many yummy ingredients, the nice part is you don't need too much of one thing, but if there are one or two ingredients that you want more of, go crazy! For me, it's the olives. I like them in every bite!
Start by prepping your toppings: half the olives, chop up the parsley, slice the zucchini, and shred the chicken. For a shortcut, I like to buy the Trader Joe's 'just grilled chicken', but I do recommend using grilled chicken, not baked, for this recipe. It's a great way to use up any grilled chicken leftovers! And if you're veggie, then leaving out the chicken is always an option - the salad is just as good without it!
Important! If you are using a jar of olives, strain them over a bowl and keep the olive juice. You're going to use it later!
With orzo, it's best to keep your eye on it as it cooks because the pieces are so thin! Bring your water to a boil, toss in that pasta, and let it do its thing. When it's on the verge of being ready, pull it out and strain it in a colander. To stop the cooking, run some cold water over it.
I like to dump my pasta back into the pot that I've been cooking with to keep it a little warm, and to save on doing dishes later. But, before you do that, put about a ½ cup of olive oil into the pot! Now, dump in the orzo and mix it real good. One of the secrets to this dish is getting the pasta really slippery with olive oil.
I like to just barely cook my zucchini for this dish, so in a separate pan, add a little butter and heat the pan to medium-high. Toss in your zucchini and keep moving them around in the pan to get them just a little limp! Then throw them into the orzo. Now you can add all your ingredients! Start with the kalamata olive juice and garlic powder, and extra olive oil if you feel like its needs it. Mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients, and you're ready to go.
I like to make this right before eating it, as it ends up being about room temperature, but you can also make it ahead of time and refrigerate! As with most pasta salads, it keeps well. In fact, we just had our leftovers last night!