Caesar Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken
Caesar Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken
This recipe is always a favorite in my house for Summer and Spring. Caesar Pasta Salad is easily made with ready made ingredients that come together perfectly. The grilled chicken is easy to make and has great flavors. The chicken is marinated overnight with a can of Sprite and some Zesty Italian Dressing.
The Caesar Pasta Salad
I am always surprised when people have never had a lettuce salad with pasta. I worked in a deli in the 1990’s and these types of salads were always our best sellers. In fact, the inspiration for this recipe came from the deli I worked at, as a salad like this was one of our most popular salads.
I always get comments about rinsing pasta when it is done cooking. People watched the Food Network at some point, learned this tidbit and cannot let it go. While it is true that you shouldn’t rinse the pasta when it comes to HOT dishes, you do in fact rinse it when you are using it for cold pasta salads. This stops the pasta from cooking and ensures it is al dente. Using salad dressing on pasta will also make it softer so you you want to make sure it is al dente. This also rinses of the excess flour that will gum up your pasta salad. I learned that people were really upset about this rinsing pasta when my recipe for BLT PASTA SALAD went viral.
I use these Fresh Express Salad kits for this recipe for Caesar Pasta Salad. These kits are about 7 ounces each, so when I am making this recipe I use two. If you buy a bigger one like the one from Sam’s Club, you can use one. I also list in the recipe to buy an extra bottle of prepared Caesar dressing and extra cheese as well as extra croutons. This is because I use the croutons and cheese from the kit to top the cooked chicken. You will also need more dressing and crouton since you are adding pasta to the salad.
You can use any rotini that you like, but I prefer to use this Veggie one from Barilla. I like the flavor it adds to the salad. Additionally, it also has a slightly different texture to it than regular pasta. I find that this texture holds up much better being tossed in the salad dressing than regular pasta. You are welcome to use any pasta you like. This includes pasta shape.
Sprite For Chicken?!
Everyone loses their mind when I say to marinate the chicken in Sprite or lemon lime soda. That is, until they try it. I learned this trick from a lady I worked with in the 90’s. I have never looked back. The actual science behind it, I don’t know. But it tenderizes the chicken in a way I cannot explain. Paired with the zesty Italian dressing, it also adds a salty, sweet flavor that also creates a perfectly caramelized chicken breast when you are grilling it.
I also want to make sure you take note of the thickness of your chicken when marinating this or any recipe. Very thin chicken will marinate more quickly. If the chicken is sitting in salt too long when it is too thin, it will start to “cure” and get rubbery and tough. In the full recipe below, also take note that all grills are different. I grill on a small gas Weber grill so my cook times are different. If you are new to cooking, please consider using a meat thermometer until you become familiar with how meat cooks and what it looks like when it is done.
- 6 to 8 chicken breasts (breasts should be about 1 inch thick)
- 1 bottle of zesty Italian salad dressing
- 1 can of Sprite or other lemon lime soda
- 2 Caesar Salad Bagged Salad Kits ( I use the fresh express brand which about 7 ounces each, if you buy a bigger one, you can use one)
- 1 Box of Rotini Spiral (Rotini) Pasta (I buy the Barilla Rotini that has veggies in it, linked in the blog post)
- 1 Cup of Fresh Grated Parmesan
- 1 to 2 Cups of Prepared Caesar Salad Dressing
- 1 Package of Caesar Salad Croutons
- In a ziploc bag or container with a lid, add your chicken breasts. If your chicken is on the thicker side, or in large pieces, pound it out with a mallet until it is about an inch thick. This is so the breasts marinate properly.
- I combine the can of Sprite with 2 cups of the Italian dressing. Whisk to combine well and pour over the chicken breasts. Seal the bag or cover and refrigerate overnight. Please note that if you are using too thin of chicken breast, leaving them to marinate overnight will start to cure them and they will be tough. If all you have is thin chicken, marinate for just a few hours.
- When you are ready to cook the chicken, take them out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. When ready to cook, I remove the chicken from the marinade and let the excess marinade drip off or you can also pat it slightly dry with paper towels. You don't want a ton of marinade on the chicken so it doesn't burn.
- Heat your grill to 400 degrees and add your chicken breasts to the grill. Every grill is different and the thickness of chicken makes a difference in cook time. Mine cooked about 7 to 9 minutes on each side. If you are trying to flip your chicken and it is sticking to the grill, it is not ready to be flipped yet. You can reduce the heat if you think it is getting too charred at this point, but it will easily flip, when it is time to flip. Flip and cook on the other side. It is best to always use a meat thermometer until you begin to know what done chicken looks and feels like. After the chicken is fully cooked, I reduce the heat and use some FRESH Italian dressing and baste each side and leave it on the grill a couple of more minutes. Let the chicken rest under some foil for about 10 minutes before serving.
- For the salad you want to boil about 3 cups of the pasta until it is al dente. You can use more or less pasta if you like. Drain the pasta and rinse it under cold water. WHEN YOU ARE USING PASTA IN A SALAD YOU RINSE IT. This is so you don't have your dressing get gummy from the pasta.
- Add the lettuce part of the salad kit to a bowl and add the pasta. I use the dressing from the salad kit and add a little more from the bottle dressing. You can add as much or as little as you like. I like it all to be lightly coated once I toss it. Right before serving, I add the fresh parm and the croutons.
- When I serve the chicken, I take the croutons from the bagged salad kit and crush them up and sprinkle them and the cheese from the kit over the chicken breasts. You can also crush some of the croutons and sprinkle them over the salad as well. Adds nice crunch to every bite without hurting your mouth on sharp whole croutons.