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Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad: A Flavorful and Refreshing Dish

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Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad is a delightful combination of tender pasta, juicy chicken, fresh vegetables, and a homemade pesto sauce. This versatile dish is perfect for a quick lunch, picnic, or light dinner. Here’s how to make this delicious salad step-by-step.

Ingredients

For Assembly:

  • 8 oz. fusilli pasta
  • 1 1/4 cups cooked chicken breast, diced
  • 1 1/4 cups baby arugula
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced

For Pesto:

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup baby arugula
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons sliced almonds
  • 1/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Instructions

Making the Pesto

  1. Prepare the Ingredients: Gather all the pesto ingredients: garlic, basil leaves, baby arugula, parsley leaves, sliced almonds, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, olive oil, and lemon juice.
  2. Blend the Ingredients: In a food processor or blender, combine the garlic clove, basil leaves, baby arugula, parsley leaves, and sliced almonds. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped.
  3. Add Cheese and Olive Oil: Add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is smooth and well combined.
  4. Season and Add Lemon Juice: Add the lemon juice, kosher salt, and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Pulse a few more times to combine. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Set the pesto aside.

Assembling the Pasta Salad

  1. Cook the Pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fusilli pasta and cook according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse it under cold water to cool it down quickly. Drain well.
  2. Combine Ingredients: In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked and cooled pasta, diced cooked chicken breast, baby arugula, halved grape tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and finely diced red onion.
  3. Add the Pesto: Add the prepared pesto to the pasta salad. Toss until all the ingredients are evenly coated with the pesto.
  4. Season and Serve: Taste the pasta salad and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately or refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

Cooking Notes and Variations

Cooking Notes:

  • Chicken: Use rotisserie chicken for convenience, or grill and dice your own chicken breast for added flavor.
  • Pasta: Fusilli pasta is ideal for this salad because its twists hold the pesto well. However, you can use any short pasta shape like penne, farfalle, or rotini.
  • Pesto Consistency: If the pesto is too thick, you can thin it out with a bit more olive oil or a splash of water until it reaches your desired consistency.

Variations:

  • Vegetarian Option: Omit the chicken and add more vegetables like roasted bell peppers, zucchini, or artichoke hearts.
  • Nut-Free Pesto: Substitute the sliced almonds with sunflower seeds or omit them altogether.
  • Cheese Substitution: Use crumbled feta or goat cheese instead of mozzarella balls for a different flavor profile.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can I make this pasta salad ahead of time?

A: Yes, this pasta salad can be made a day in advance. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving to enhance the flavors.

Q: How long does the pesto last?

A: Homemade pesto can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.

Q: Can I use store-bought pesto?

A: Absolutely! If you’re short on time, you can use store-bought pesto. Just adjust the amount to taste, as store-bought varieties can vary in flavor intensity.

Q: What other protein options can I use?

A: You can substitute the chicken with grilled shrimp, diced turkey, or even chickpeas for a vegetarian option.

Q: How do I prevent the pasta from sticking together?

A: After draining, rinse the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process and remove excess starch. Toss the cooled pasta with a bit of olive oil if you’re not assembling the salad immediately.

Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad is a refreshing and satisfying dish that’s perfect for any occasion. With its vibrant flavors and easy preparation, it’s sure to become a favorite in your household. Whether you’re preparing it for a quick lunch, a picnic, or a light dinner, this salad offers a delightful combination of textures and tastes. Try this recipe today and enjoy a delicious, homemade pasta salad that’s both healthy and flavorful!

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