Chicken Pasta Salad

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 Chicken Pasta Salad combines baby spinach, miniature bowtie pasta, rotisserie chicken, cherry tomatoes, and toasted almonds to make a satiating and hearty salad. Drizzle with a fresh and lively citrus vinaigrette.

Overhead image of the Chicken Pasta Salad

Chicken Pasta Salad

Big, filling salads are one of our favorite things to eat in the summer — a loaded-up Pasta Salad, Quinoa Salad, Chickpea Salad — you name it! If we don’t have to turn on the stove or oven and can have a hearty and flavorful salad alongside some kind of protein we’ve just pulled off the grill — that’s what summer eating is all about at my home!

And when there’s already grilled chicken in the salad, there’s no need to overcomplicate things! This Chicken Pasta Salad is satiating while tasting fresh and light. It can make a great stand-alone light lunch or a good filling side for dinner. If you’d like it to be a lighter side-dish, leave out the chicken and for more staying power, add in some extra chicken!

Process shots-- images of the bowtie pasta being cooked and drained, the spinach being chopped, and the chicken, tomatoes, almonds, and feta cheese being added

Pasta Salad Tips

  • Make sure the pasta is well-salted as it cooks since salting is the only chance you have to season the actual pasta. As a rule of thumb, I add 1 teaspoon salt to 4 cups of water, or about 1 tablespoon of salt when cooking the bowtie noodles for this salad.
  • Get a small textured pasta. Choose a pasta that has plenty of nooks and crannies to hold the delicious citrus vinaigrette. If you can’t find mini bowtie/farfalle, I recommend miniature shells, rotini, or fusilli.
  • Cook the pasta to al dente. Since the pasta sits in dressing, it will get soggy if it has been overcooked. On the flip side, pasta becomes a little firmer when served cold, so don’t under-cook it! I cook it according to the package directions of what al dente is.
  • Make the dressing in advance. This dressing benefits from being made in advance and chilling in the fridge, so the flavors meld together and intensify. Plus it tastes better chilled.
  • Swap the dressing. If you aren’t sure about a citrus/fruit-y vinaigrette with this chicken pasta salad, I’d recommend a balsamic dressing (like the dressing on this Cucumber Salad) or Greek-style dressing (like the dressing on this Greek Pasta Salad)

QUICK TIP

Al dente is Italian for ‘to the tooth,’ and refers to cooking pasta just enough to retain a somewhat firm texture. You’ll know the pasta is cooked al dente when the noodle has a good chew and a slightly undercooked center. If you cut the noodle in half, you’ll see a lighter color in the middle of the pasta that isn’t fully cooked. 

Chicken Pasta Salad: Making the dressing.

Rotisserie Chicken

Rotisserie chicken or leftover grilled chicken adds protein and filling power to this salad, but if you prefer, you can leave it out. That will give you a quicker prep time and a lighter side salad. It also makes this a vegetarian salad. 

I like using rotisserie chicken for a quick prep time. And since the rotisserie chicken is deliciously seasoned, it lends more flavor to this salad.

If you aren’t purchasing a rotisserie chicken, you can make your own rotisserie chicken and use the leftover meat in this salad. Alternatively, you can use leftover Grilled Chicken or any other cooked chicken. Whatever you use, make sure to chop it into bite-sized pieces. 

I’ll usually buy (or make) a rotisserie chicken and use it in one meal (like these Rotisserie Chicken Tacos or Peanut Chicken Lettuce Wraps) and set aside 1 cup of the chicken to use in this salad later in the week.

Close-up view of Chicken Pasta Salad

How To Toast Sliced Almonds

Spread the sliced almonds into an even layer in a small, dry (no need to add oil) skillet over medium heat and stir them around a bit until they are fragrant and toasted to your liking.

Watch the almonds carefully; they can go from perfectly toasted to burnt in an instant! I like to remove them as soon as they begin to smell fragrant. They make the perfect crunchy topping for this Chicken Pasta Salad. Alternatively, purchase honey-roasted sliced almonds from the grocery store to use.

Variations

  • Add a creamy element. My favorite creamy element is avocado. Since avocados don’t hold up well in the salad, if you add them, add to individual plates right before serving. 
  • Replace the spinach with chopped baby kale. Read about how to prepare it in this Costco kale salad.
  • Add in some diced shallots or red onion. If you’d like a bit more sharpness or savoriness in this salad, I’d highly recommend adding some onion.
  • Replace the feta with another cheese. Either freshly shaved Parmesan cheese or creamy goat cheese would be great in this chicken pasta salad.

Up close overhead image of the Chicken Pasta Salad

Storing Chicken Pasta Salad

  • This salad doesn’t sit or store well once dressed. The dressing wilts the spinach, softens the veggies, and makes the almonds soggy. 
  • To make the salad in advance, store the toppings separately from the salad and toss everything together right before serving. 
  • Chicken Pasta Salad does not freeze or thaw well.

More pasta salads

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Chicken Pasta Salad

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This Chicken Pasta Salad combines baby spinach, miniature bowtie pasta, leftover grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, and toasted almonds. This salad gets drizzled with a fresh and lively citrus vinaigrette.
Print Recipe

Chicken Pasta Salad

No ratings yet
This Chicken Pasta Salad combines baby spinach, miniature bowtie pasta, leftover grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, and toasted almonds. This salad gets drizzled with a fresh and lively citrus vinaigrette.
Course Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Healthy
Keyword Chicken Pasta Salad
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 6 as a side
Calories 422kcal
Author Chelsea
Cost $5.21

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups (140g) miniature bowtie or penne pasta (measured dry)
  • 6 cups (123g) coarsely chopped baby spinach, stems removed
  • 1 cup (141g) diced cooked chicken (leftover marinated and grilled chicken or leftover rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 cup (166g) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup (45g) crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/3 cup (36g) toasted sliced almonds

Dressing

  • 2 mandarin oranges (2 tbsp (32g) orange juice; 1 teaspoon zest)
  • 1 large lemon (1/4 teaspoon zest; 1 tbsp (15g) juice)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons (37g) honey
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) Dijon mustard do not use yellow mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (48g) olive oil

Instructions

  • PASTA: Prepare the pasta according to package directions. (Don't cook all the pasta; only use 1-1/2 cups!) Make sure to generously salt the water (I add 1 teaspoon to every 4 cups of water), or the whole salad will taste under-seasoned. Drain pasta, rinse under cold water, let cool, and allow to dry. Add to a large bowl.
  • SALAD ADDITIONS: Add the coarsely chopped spinach to the pasta and toss to combine. Add in the chicken, tomatoes, feta, and toasted almonds (see Note 1).
  • DRESSING: combine all of the ingredients together (except for the oil) in a small blender or mini food processor. Blend until all ingredients are well incorporated. Slowly add in the oil in a steady stream and pulse until just combined. Transfer to a Mason jar and store in the fridge until ready to use. Shake vigorously before topping the salad.
  • FINISH SALAD: Only dress what will get eaten immediately (see step 5). When ready to eat, drizzle on the prepared dressing (add to preference; you may not want to add it all right away. We typically add most of it and then a bit more to moisten the salad as it settles). Gently toss salad. Adjust any seasonings (salt and pepper) to taste and serve.
  • STORAGE: This salad stores well as long as the almonds, feta cheese, and dressing aren’t mixed in. Store the salad separate from the extra toppings and add those ingredients right before serving.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: To toast almonds: Add the sliced almonds in a single layer to a completely dry skillet (don't add any oil) and place on medium-high heat. Stir the nuts every 15 seconds for about 1-3 minutes or until the color slightly darkens and they start to smell good. Watch these carefully as they can go from perfectly toasted to burned quickly!

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 422kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 45mg | Sodium: 476mg | Potassium: 1727mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 22646IU | Vitamin C: 93mg | Calcium: 364mg | Iron: 8mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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15 Comments

  1. Lovely salad, Chelsea! That dressings sounds so refreshing and perfect for springtime! I totally get what you mean about eating salads to balance out desserts, haha. This one looks perfect for that! 🙂

  2. I love how you present salads/pasta dishes. Beautiful! I’m all about salad dressing, so appreciate you talking about it first! It’s such a crucial part and some people tend to overlook it. I don’t even buy salad dressing anymore. Anyways, I feel like I can taste this just by looking at it, so great! Pinned for later. Thank you, Chelsea!

  3. YUM! this salad looks like exactly what I need for spring – bright, colorful, and healthy!

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