caprese pasta salad with grilled chicken breast

I love cooking in the summer when ingredients are so fresh and herbs so readily available that cooking becomes less, well, actual cooking and more assembling.  Enter this pasta salad.  I first made it as part of an open house spread.  A few weeks later when my mom’s birthday rolled around, this is what she requested for dinner.  I added the grilled chicken breast to make it a substantial meal (and ended up grilling a few extra so that my cross-fit/fitness enthusiast brothers would get their adequate 200% daily value of protein).

This meal was fresh, light and easy to make.  I recommend adding it to your summer repertoire.

Caprese Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken Breast
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Yield: 6-8 servings

A few notes from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated: Use only the ripest, most flavorful tomatoes you can find (hello, Farmer’s Markets in the Midwest).  Avoid plum tomatoes because they are too firm.  The tomatoes can be diced a couple hours in advance, but wait until the pasta is cooking to add the seasonings.  Short stubby pastas work well here (I used farfalle.  Orecchiette and fusilli would work equally well to catch juicy bits of sauce).  The pasta salad (sans chicken) can be assembled up to four hours in advance at kept at room temperature until served.

1 pound pasta
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded and  cut into small dice (I used cherry tomatoes and just halved them)
6 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, shredded
Ground black pepper
Salt
6-8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Season with salt.  Cook pasta until al dente.  Drain & set aside.

2.  While the pasta is cooking, season the chicken breasts with salt & pepper.  Grill until done.  Set aside.

3.  Toss together tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, basil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl.  Add drained pasta to tomatoes and toss well.  Serve immediately, or if desired, cool to room temperature.

4.  After the chicken has rested for at least 5 minutes, slice and place atop individual servings of pasta.  Alternatively, slice the chicken breasts and toss together with the pasta.

Source:  adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

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