The pasta salad can be a thing of beauty or a complete failure. I have made both and I have had both. The pasta salads that are served at the cafeteria where I work are consistently bland, dry, and with overcooked mushy noodles. What’s worse is that they charge for them by the ounce!!! So I pay $5 for what amounts to little more than a side dish serving of what masquerades as pasta salad with the all the texture and taste of a crushed and powdered moon rock.
No frankly, I like my pasta salad to be creamy, well seasoned, with al dente noodles. I can’t really be that hard, especially if I can do it. And I do it all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a pro; just a bit more proficient over the years of making mayo soaked, mushy, vinegary, glop, I now know a thing or two.
Usually, there may not be anything inherently interesting about pasta salad. It’s noodles, protein, and dressing. I think more and more some of the pasta salads I’ve had over the years at picnics, mess halls, and school cafeterias; they fall into the unimpressive/uninteresting category. Don’t you agree?
This dish I compiled is a winner for me. I make it quite often in the summer months. Last year it was one of my staples when going to the Chastain Amphitheater. We used to get a subscription for 5-8 shows every year. Chastain is where we would go to sit under the stars and hear top jazz musicians and on occasion some top pop musicians (last year we saw John Legend with Corinne Baily Rae). It is a great atmosphere. You’ll see people with trays covered with linens, candles burning, wine a pouring, and food ranging from the I-didn’t-feel-like-cooking purchased sandwiches to gourmet platters and spreads. The theater even has a couple of catering services. Well it was here that this chicken pasta dish was born.
I particularly like the fact that it is substantive enough to be more than just a side dish. The chipotle flakes add boldness while the avocado adds an extra layer of creaminess. As for the texture, the red onion adds a nice crunch against the sweet cherry tomatoes and fusilli. This recipe isn’t etched in stone, mix and match, add and subtract ingredients. The main components are the chicken, the pasta, and the avocado. Well, at least for me they are.
Shredded cooked chicken about 2 – 2 1/2 cups (I used a whole roasted chicken)
1 tbsp chipotle flakes (use more or less to your liking)
Cherry tomatoes halved (I don’t how many I used.)
3 Haas avocados pitted and diced
Quick Ranch dressing (recipe follows)
1/2 red onion diced
1/2 tbsp fresh dill chopped
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire
1 package fusilli pasta (I used the tri-color)
Cook pasta according to the package instructions. I used chicken stock in place of water when cooking the pasta. Allow the pasta to cool fully.
In a large bowl combine the tomatoes and the chicken.
Fold in the pasta, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, chipotle flakes, and dressing.
Add the avocado and gently fold in.
Add the onion and dill and combine.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
For the Quick Ranch:
1 c mayonnaise
1 c buttermilk
2 tsp fresh parsley finely chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
salt and white pepper to taste (I used about a tsp each)
Combine all ingredients.
Allow to chill.
Makes about 2 cups or so.