Last night I made a festive dinner for 12 people, including my childhood best friend who was in town visiting from California. Due to the presence of five little boys, it was necessary to make food that they would eat, but I didn’t want to serve beans & weenies and potato chips, particularly since my friend’s father is French, and although I don’t know the extent to which he is actually a gourmet, he is, well, French. So no beans and weenies, but also no Coq au Vin or other classic French cuisine that would tend to highlight the distance between my own skills in the kitchen and those of, say, Jacques Pepin.
So, I marinated chicken with Italian dressing to be grilled, made a big pasta salad dressed with a vinaigrette, steamed a lot of green beans and made focaccia as outlined in last week’s menu planning edition. The food was good, the party was wonderful, and I was left with a lot of leftover chicken and pasta salad. Its beastly hot here again today, so I took about five of the leftover chicken breasts, sliced them fairly thin, and tossed them into the leftover salad along with a little extra dressing and Parmesan. We’ll have this for dinner along with some sliced melon and good, Italian bread.
It occurred to me after I had assembled this meal, that I could actually recreate it again, intentionally. It means two nights without running the oven, and two very good dinners. One could even separate the two meals by a night in order to avoid two dinners made from the same component parts, although I am, apparently not that concerned about my own family’s culinary boredom. They’re a tough bunch.
If you were going to make these two dinners on purpose, this is what you’d do:
Night One: Grilled Chicken and Pasta Salad
(This should serve four and leave plenty for leftovers; if you have really hearty eaters, you may want to grill more chicken)
For the Chicken:
- At least 12 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 bottles Italian salad dressing
Place chicken in Ziploc bag with dressing and marinate for at least 8 hours. Get someone to grill it.
For Pasta Salad:
- 2 16 oz boxes (dry) of short-cut pasta (farfalle, rotini, rotelle, etc.)
- 3 medium, ripe tomatoes, diced
- 2 15 oz. can black olives, drained
- 8 oz or more Cubed Mozzarella cheese (I like the kind that comes braided, in oil with sun-dried tomatoes and herbs for this purpose)
- Sliced fresh Basil (optional)
- 1 bottle prepared Italian dressing
- Grated Parmesan (optional)
Boil and drain pasta according to package directions. Place in large bowl along with tomatoes, olives, basil and dressing. Toss to coat all ingredients with dressing. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then see if you want to add more dressing – the hot pasta will have absorbed some. Add Parmesan, and toss again. Chill while the chicken is marinating, and remove and bring to room temperature while chicken is grilling. Add a topping of grated Parmesan if you like.
Night Two (Or Three, or Even Four): Grilled Chicken and Pasta Salad
(This should also serve four people)
- Leftover chicken breasts
- Leftover pasta salad
Slice or shred chicken and add to pasta salad. If you like, you can beef up the salad with more cheese, some toasted pine nuts, more fresh basil, some diced bell pepper, roasted red peppers or anything that makes it a little different than it was the last time you served it.
I am also thinking that this pattern could be followed to make other good twofers – chicken marinated in a Greek dressing, and a pasta salad with Feta cheese, Kalamata olives, tomatoes and green peppers? Maybe Chicken in a curry-flavored marinade with rice, turned into a rice salad with chicken, raisins, cashews and some pureed chutney dressing….?