Asian Pesto Chicken Salad
If ubiquity means anything, pasta salad with chicken ranks right up there in popularity with hamburgers and cole slaw on the American picnic table. But too often it can be bland or heavy. This spicy grilled-chicken version gives you all the satisfaction of everyday pasta salads and more. First, instead of the usual fusilli, it's made with orzo, whose small rice shapes coat beautifully. Second, the salad's dairy free, so you can serve it at room temperature without worry. Finally, it goes together really quickly-good news when you want a delicious but unstressful party dish.
Make this with warm or room-temperature chicken, as you prefer-and, for best texture, avoid tossing the ingredients together until the last minute.
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil, if needed
1 1⁄2 cups uncooked orzo
4 boneless chicken breasts with skin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1⁄4 cups Asian Pesto, plus additional for drizzling
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Juice of 2 lemons
1⁄2 pound baby spinach, washed and dried
- Prepare an outdoor grill, heat to hot, and spray the grid with nonstick cooking oil. Alternatively, heat a grill pan or heavy sauté pan over high heat, add the oil, and swirl to coat the pan.
- Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the orzo until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well.
- Meanwhile, season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill the chicken, turning once, until the juices run clear when the meat is pierced with the tip of a paring knife, about 10 minutes. Alternatively, grill the breasts in a pan over medium-high heat, turning once, until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Cut the chicken with its skin into 1⁄4-inch-wide slices. Allow the chicken to come to room temperature if you prefer, or proceed with the warm chicken slices.
- In a large bowl, combine the chicken with 1 cup of the pesto, the orzo, and the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1⁄4 cup of pesto with the lemon juice, then toss with the spinach. Season with salt and pepper.
- Divide the spinach mixture among 4 plates. Mound the chicken salad on the spinach, drizzle with additional pesto, and serve.