Chicken Pistachio Pasta Salad is a hearty entrée salad perfect for a warm summer evening. This recipe comes to me by way of a community cookbook from the Mother Teresa Maternity Home in Placerville, CA, which serves as both a women’s shelter and a temporary home for pregnant women. Unlike most community cookbooks, this one focuses exclusively on soups and salads, including a welcome selection of entree salads.
Pasta salads are one of those things that I always enjoy in the moment but that it rarely occurs to me to make at home. As a young man I had a modest addiction to Suddenly Salad pasta salad (pro tip: it’s great for camping trips) and always went straight to the mayonnaise-drenched pasta-shell-salads at church potlucks. At the same time, it’s an absolute pain to make as a side dish: an awful lot of effort and advance prep for something that’s (usually) only marginally better than a tossed salad. The only pasta salad in regular rotation in our house is a sweet and creamy macaroni salad, which is a must-have when I grill teriyaki chicken.
But this pasta salad caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First: a nice variety of fresh vegetables. Second: no diced onions. I like raw onions just fine, but a few extra onion bits in one bite of salad ends the whole experience. (pro tip #2: use a box grater to grate your onion into teeny tiny bits.) But the big bonus for this salad is that there’s no advance preparation required. The salad is meant to be served at room temperature and doesn’t (necessarily) need to spend any time in the refrigerator. You can go straight from boiling pasta to the dinner table in right around 45 minutes. The pistachios are the icing on the cake, adding just enough something different to turn this from a forgettable side into an enjoyable main. The rest of the flavors play a decidedly supporting role – a lightly seasoned vinaigrette provides some background acid, and lightly cooked sugar snap peas add a sugary crunch. Let’s be honest: pasta and chicken don’t taste like much, and are basically just vehicles to deliver the other stuff to your taste buds.
I wasn’t sure what my kids would make of this. They’re not big fans of chicken to begin with and I worried a little bit that this would come across like a lukewarm pasta primavera. But they bought into the whole salad idea and all went back for seconds. As I write this warm summer days are waning, but I can see this coming back into regular rotation when the weather warms up again. Serve with fresh fruit, if you serve it with anything at all. Enjoy!
- 1 lb dried rotini
- 2-3 cups leftover chicken breast (cubed or shredded)
- 2 cups fresh spinach
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup fresh pea pods (blanched or lightly stir-fried)
- ½ cup salted, shelled pistachios (coarsely chopped)
- freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the dressing:
- Boil the rotini according to package directions. Drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the leftover chicken breast.
- Mix the ingredients for the dressing and stir into the pasta. Let cool for ~10 minutes. Taste the pasta and add more red wine vinegar as necessary.
- Fold the spinach into the warm pasta (the spinach should wilt a little bit). Let cool for ~10 more minutes, then stir tomatoes and pea pods. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Serve with chopped pistachios and Parmesan on the side, and let your guests season to their liking.
Rotisserie chicken or leftover grilled chicken work well in this recipe. To make your own “leftovers” liberally season fresh chicken breasts with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and bake covered at 325 F until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 F.
Or use this simple sous vide method.