A spinach salad with penne pasta, grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, toasted slivered almonds, and a fresh citrus vinaigrette.
I’m going to start out a little backwards today.
Backwards, as in I’m going to talk about the dressing first. Since that’s what I’m most excited about.
Don’t get me wrong, the salad as a whole is pretty exciting, it’s just, well, typical salad stuff. It’s the dressing that really makes this salad AWESOME.
So the dressing – it’s tangy, citrus-y, and super fresh. PLUS it’s healthy.
I love eating salads, but sometimes the dressing makes the salad pretty unhealthy and high calorie. Not that I’m counting my calories (I would not want to know the calories in a slice of Thin Mint Cheesecake, or an entire skillet of Cinnamon Roll Cake — the husband and I have eaten way too many of those!) But I do like to know my salad isn’t as many calories as, say, a fried chicken.
Which, funny fact, at a restaurant I used to work at, there is a fried chicken on the menu that has as many calories as one of the salads. Not joking. Crazzzzzy.
Okay done talking about calories and fried chickens. So the base of the dressing is olive oil + red wine vinegar. It gets sweetened by some honey and orange juice. There is also orange peel in the dressing. I used a clementine to get fresh juice from and the peel from. I love oranges and orange juice, but I find that clementines have a more tart and tangy flavor when compared to regular oranges. The dressing is definitely more tart from the clementines than it would be with regular oranges. Feel free to switch and use either or.
This dressing is the perfect amount of sweetness with tang and is emulsified with some dijon mustard. Do not substitute regular mustard. But if you don’t have Dijon, an olive oil based mayo would work in it’s place.
Now that I’ve talked enough about this dressing and how great it is, let’s discuss the rest of the salad. The base is spinach salad plus penne pasta. Just one cup of penne pasta – white or whole wheat.
Next is some cherry tomatoes that you will need to halve. The remaining line-up is some crumbled feta cheese, and three tablespoons of slivered almonds. I recommend toasting the almonds because it add so much flavor. This can be done easily by spreading the almonds over a skillet on medium heat and stirring them around until fragrant.
The last ingredient for the actual salad is chicken.
The recipe calls for grilled chicken. If you don’t have a grill, no problem. You can cook it over your stovetop in a large saucepan. I like to season the chicken with some salt and pepper and chicken seasoning (on both sides).
My favorite chicken seasoning is Mrs. Dash chicken grilling blends. If you cook it over the stovetop it will be quicker to slice it into strips before cooking. If you grill the chicken it should be done at about 170 degrees F and cooked until no longer pink inside. This takes about 6-8 minutes on a covered grill and 12-15 minutes on an uncovered grill. Make sure to flip the chicken if you are using an uncovered grill.
You can garnish your salad with some extra orange peel if desired and make sure to sprinkle on that cheese liberally!
- 1 cup penne pasta (measured dry)
- 1 boneless skinless chicken breast (plus olive oil, salt, pepper, and seasoning)
- 10 ounces baby spinach
- 1 and 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
- 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
- 1 teaspoon clementine zest
- 2 tablespoons juice from a clementine
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (do not use regular)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Cook the pasta according to package direction. Drain and then rinse with cold water.
- Meanwhile, lightly coat your skillet with 2 to 3 teaspoons olive oil.
- Sprinkle salt, pepper, and chicken seasoning (I highly recommend Mrs. Dash's chicken grilling blends) on each side of the chicken breast.
- Preheat the skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Place the chicken in the skillet and then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear, about 8 to 12 minutes.
- As the chicken cooks, turn it occasionally so it browns evenly. If it starts to brown too quickly, reduce the heat to medium-low.
- For the dressing, combine all of the dressing ingredients into an airtight jar. Shake until well combined. Toss the dressing with the spinach. Add in the halved cherry tomatoes and toss again.
- Chop the completely cooled chicken breast into small pieces and add to the salad.
- Lightly toast the almonds over a skillet on medium heat until fragrant. Sprinkle the almonds and feta cheese over the salad.
Craving more salad?