Sunday nights are welcome. Rox and I stay incredibly busy most all week long, and now and then we enjoy just kicking our feet up and relaxing on a Sunday evening. It is those kinds of evenings that I stumble upon dishes and recipes like this simple Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad that otherwise would not appear on my Acadiana Table. No agenda, no planning, no problem.
To further simplify the evening, we decided there would be no mad dash to the store for last-minute ingredients, but rather, our relaxing Sunday dinner would be made exclusivity with items we had on hand. Pasta, fresh herbs from the garden, along with a hodgepodge of ripe vegetables and fruit can sometimes come together brilliantly.
Pairing wine with food is what we do at most every meal, but this evening we switched the order of things and uncorked a spectacular 2011 Cakebread Chardonnay for inspiration. As the bottle breathed, nestled in a cooler of ice, we thought about what food to pair this beautiful wine with.
And the research began.
Before tasting the wine, we Googled the bottle to discover the background of the vintage and conditions of its growth. And as this bottle’s story goes:
2011 was among the coldest, wettest and latest vintages in memory. Wet winter and spring weather extended into mid-June, delaying and disrupting budbreak, bloom and fruit set and setting the stage for a cool summer growing season that culminated in a prolonged harvest. The cool summer weather fostered slow, even ripening and the development of optimal fruit flavors at lower-than-normal sugar levels. This helped us craft a beautifully balanced Chardonnay with fresh acidity and classic varietal aromas and flavors.
As we delved into the nuances of this particular harvest, Roxanne was the first to key on the cool California summer and the lack of sweltering heat that naturally inhibits the formation of sugary sweet grapes. Our food pairing should be fresh, natural with an equally light preparation that is perfect for a grilled chicken pasta salad sans heavy sauce of any kind. I agreed. We read on:
Our 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay opens with fresh, creamy aromas of ripe pear, apple and citrus, with light butter, yeast and spicy oak tones adding complexity. The wine’s rich, focused, green apple, melon and guava flavors are nicely balanced by fresh acidity and a piquant mineral tone. Both mouthfilling and elegant, this quintessential Napa Valley Chardonnay is delectable now, but it will develop even greater complexity as the bottle ages.
We decided that a simple, nutty Louisiana pecan oil spiked with a squeeze of Meyer lemon would be just the acid-laced undertone to this Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad as we contemplated what herbs and produce to feature. In our garden, we have leaves of basil and mint that with a quick chiffonade will easily add a herbal counterbalance to the piquant red and yellow cherry tomatoes we found along with some fresh green asparagus in the bottom crisper.
We poured a tasting and were pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of the winery’s notes, but we detected a rich buttery and slightly oaky note that will work well with grilled boneless chicken breast.
This wine along with my Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad might be a world-class pairing–vintage with simplicity.
- 5 tablespoons pecan oil
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups spaghetti noodles, cooked
- 2 Clementine oranges
- 2 tablespoons diced red onion
- 2 tablespoons diced green onion tops
- 1 cup red cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup green asparagus tips, blanched
- ½ cup green peas, cooked
- 1 small green jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed and diced
- ½ cup loosely packed fresh basil, stems removed and chopped
- 2 sprigs of mint, stems removed and chopped
- 1 fresh Meyer lemon
- In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of pecan oil. While the oil is heating, season the chicken breasts with Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper. Once the pan is hot, add the chicken breasts and brown on both sides until completely done, about 15 minutes. Remove to a plate, cover and refrigerate.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked noodles and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle lightly with 1 tablespoon pecan oil. Cover and refrigerate.
- Peel the oranges and remove the seeds. Slice segments of the orange being careful to remove any white pith. Add the orange segments to the bowl of pasta.
- In the large mixing bowl, add the onions, tomatoes, asparagus, peas, jalapenos, basil, and mint. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze 2 tablespoons of the juice over the salad being careful to remove any seeds. Toss while drizzling lightly with the remaining pecan oil.
- Remove the cooled chicken from the refrigerator and slice into strips. Add the chicken to the bowl and toss again. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- For serving, mound the cold salad mixture in the center of a plate making sure to distribute the ingredients evenly. Pair with an ice-cold glass of Chardonnay.
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