This is a great dish for do-ahead summer entertaining. Sweet and juicy grapes are the zesty "extra" that revive weary tastebuds on a hot summer night.
Pasta and chicken
Dash of salt
6 ounces penne rigate (about 2 cups)
12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Creamy Pesto Dressing
2 tablespoons basil pesto
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon pepper, or to taste
To complete the recipe
1 cup coarsely shredded carrots
1 cup seedless red grapes (about 6 ounces)
12 leaves red leaf lettuce
Garnish: freshly ground pepper, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, sprigs of fresh basil
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat; add salt, then the penne. When the water returns to a boil, stir occasionally to separate the penne. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or according to package instructions, until the pasta is al dente. Drain well, rinse with cool water, and drain again.
While the pasta is cooking, poach the chicken. Pour water into a medium sauté pan, to a level about 1 ½ inches deep (when it is added, the chicken should be covered by about ½ inch water). Stir in the salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken; reduce the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the chicken is just cooked through.
With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the skillet. Cut it into 1-inch pieces and place on a plate to cool. Discard the poaching liquid.
Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
In a medium bowl, toss together the pasta, chicken, carrots, and grapes. Add the dressing; toss again.
To serve, arrange lettuce leaves on four salad plates or shallow bowls. Top with mounds of the chicken salad. Garnish and serve.
The dressing will keep for up to 2 days in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator. (If it thickens after standing, thin with milk or water.) This salad can be made early the day it is to be served; refrigerate and serve later, either chilled or at room temperature.
Substitute other pasta shapes, such as rotini or rotelle.
Rather than poaching the chicken breasts, grill them.
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