I had some weird food stuff going on as a kid. I’ve already mentioned my early love of beets. Things really got weird with breakfast, though. I HATED eggs, toast, juice, pancakes, freezer waffles, and thought cereal was only kinda “meh”. As an 8 year old, what else was even left for breakfast options? Luckily I had a nice mom who probably figured something was better than nothing, so she let me eat dinner leftovers for breakfast. Every single morning. Because some microwaved chicken with mashed potatoes or spaghetti sound appetizing at 7 am. Served up, of course, with a hearty helping of older sister eye rolling, because why did her little sister have to be so weird! Apparently my 8 year old self thought this was all just fine. My poor mom! A few years later once I finally got tired of leftovers for breakfast, I had a banana with peanut butter every morning for a whole year, then Special K with Strawberries the next. (I’m shaking my head just typing this.)
After my mega-binge on leftovers at a young age, I’ve never really loved them since (excluding those of the Thanksgiving variety – they are perfection). And I lucked out because my husband doesn’t love them either. So as a newlywed, not only was I adjusting to washing and folding boy underwear for the first time (ugh), I was also learning how to scale down recipes like crazy because no way either of us were taking leftovers for lunch, or, heaven forbid eat them for a second night in a row.
But then I discovered the beauty of the main dish pasta salad. It checks all the food group boxes: carbs (usually whole wheat pasta), loads of vegetables, healthy fats, and protein (chicken or chickpeas). To lighten it up even more, I like to serve it all over a bed of fresh greens. I’ve made a dozen different versions of the main dish pasta salad since we’ve been married, some leaning Mexican flavored with black beans and chile-roasted sweet potatoes, most in the Asian category with shredded carrot and spicy peanut dressing. This one, though, is one of my favorites. I intentionally make leftovers of this one, and it actually tastes even better the second day. My 8 year old self would be so pleased 🙂
Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
For the chicken
- 1 pound chicken tenders
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon each dried oregano and dried basil
- pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper
For the red pepper sauce
- 1/3 cup whole roasted almonds
- 1 roasted red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic (one clove)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup olive oil
For the salad
- 12 oz pasta - rotini, penne, and farfalle are all good options
- 1 small cucumber
- 1 cup green olives
- 1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- Fresh greens and additional olive oil for serving
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay out the chicken on the lined sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with the herbs, crushed pepper, and salt and pepper. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the chicken juices run clear and the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
While the chicken bakes, bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Cook the pasta to al dente, usually 1 minute less than the package directions indicate. Drain and rinse the pasta.
While the chicken and pasta are cooking, prep the rest of the salad. Start with the dressing: in a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are the size of coarse crumbs. Add the red pepper, garlic, salt, and lemon juice and process until everything just starts to come together. Add the 1/4 cup olive oil and process until nice and smooth - this shouldn't take too long. You're welcome to leave the dressing a little chunky if you'd like. Chop the cucumber into 1/2 inch chunks, roughly chop the olives. The chicken and pasta should be done right around this time.
Assemble the salad by tossing the still slightly warm but well drained pasta with the red pepper sauce, cucumber, olives, and cheese. Stir well, adding a drizzle of olive oil here and there to help break up the sauce evenly throughout the pasta. This is a good point to refrigerate the salad if needed.
This salad is definitely best at room temperature, so you'll want to take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving it. Toss in the fresh basil just before serving with the greens, thinly sliced chicken, and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!