Lemon-Basil Chicken Pasta Salad (Day Three of Lemon Week)

I often hear friends say something like this: “I really need some new recipes. It seems like I just make the same old things over and over.” Today I want to share a cooking technique that just might make you realize that you have a lot more recipes than you think! I call this method of cooking template cooking.

My husband thought that this pasta salad was a new recipe and wondered where I got it from. Actually, I have been making this same salad for years, but just changed up the ingredients a bit today. I had this fun looking cavatappi pasta in my pantry and a wonderful jar of sun dried tomatoes. Along with this I added tiny, tender frozen peas. The fresh basil was gorgeous at Trader Joe’s this week, so I had picked up a bunch. Since it’s LEMON week,  I added the zest of a few lemons. This is what I call template cooking; taking an old tried-and-true recipe and giving it a bit of a wardrobe makeover. You’re not changing the actual skeleton of the recipe; in this case the pasta and dressing that ties it all together.

Lemons, Lemons, Here and There, Lemons, Lemons, Some to Share!

Some of you may be thinking; “Oh, I could never do that, I might mess up the whole thing!” Just start with small steps. Maybe you don’t have the frozen peas for this recipe but you have some beautiful asparagus sitting in your vegetable crisper. Pull it out, slice each spear into bite size pieces and steam for just a few minutes. Add these lovely delectables to your salad and perhaps switch out the Feta cheese for some Parmesan. No sun dried tomatoes? No problem! Substitute fresh tomatoes or roasted red peppers. Keep some fun, unique pastas in your pantry that you could use for a different twist. Make one or more of these small changes and…. PRESTO! A brand new recipe that family and friends will be asking for! I want to encourage you today: You can do this!

This pasta salad can be made ahead and is wonderful for dinner with some warm, crusty bread. It also makes great lunch or picnic fare. It’s a wonderful choice to take to a friend who has been sick or has a new baby or just needs a little TLC. The leftovers make a great lunch to take to work, but I must give you this WARNING! Your co-workers might be longingly staring holes through your lunch!


P.S. This recipe makes a huge amount! It will serve quite a crowd or plan on sharing it with friends!

P.P.S If you are watching your carbs, like many of us are as we head towards summer, just use a much higher ratio of veggies and chicken vs. pasta. It still will be fantastic!

Lemon-Basil Chicken Pasta Salad
16 ounces pasta, whatever shape you like. (I used Cavatappi.)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
4-5 cups shredded chicken, you can use rotisserie chicken or left over grilled chicken. I roasted 3 bone-in, skin-on large chicken breasts and shredded the meat after cooling.
1 6 ounce bag fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
12 ounces tiny frozen peas
3/4 cup feta cheese
zest of 2 lemons
1 package sweet basil, chopped
1 cup sliced almonds
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
2. While pasta is cooking, place chopped fresh spinach and tiny peas in a large colander. When pasta is finished cooking, pour the steaming water and pasta right over the spinach and peas in the colander. Drain well.
3. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to mix. Taste and add sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with toasted almonds.* Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be made ahead – refrigerate until ready to use and then warm on medium power in microwave to desired temperature. Do not overheat.
4.* For the almonds, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place almonds, butter, olive oil and sea salt in a small pan. (I use a cake pan.) Place in oven for 3 minutes. Remove and stir. Repeat this process until almonds are golden brown. Remove from oven and spread out on several thicknesses of paper towels to cool.


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