Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
This delicious chicken Caesar pasta salad is packed with seasoned pan-fried chicken, al dente pasta, crisp romaine, and juicy cherry tomatoes. Keep it simple or elevate things with homemade dressing and croutons. It’s perfect for summer gatherings and easy dinners!
Although the origins of the Caesar salad may be a matter of debate, there is no question about their popularity. Caesar salads are loaded with umami, primarily from the traditional inclusion of Parmesan and anchovy in the creamy dressing, and balanced out by the light tang of citrus and the satisfying crunch of crisp romaine lettuce and garlicky, toasted croutons. Add all this up, and it’s little wonder they’re a consistent feature on restaurant menus and for home cooks.
Now, combine all that flavor and texture with tender chicken and al dente pasta, and you have the most perfect side or light main for spring and summer dining. A chicken Caesar pasta salad is flexible, easy to make, and most importantly, completely delicious.
A cold sparkling beverage and your favorite patio chair is optional, but strongly encouraged. 🙂
- Chicken. Sauté or grill your own chicken breasts, or use rotisserie as a great time-saver. Thin-sliced breasts cook the most quickly and evenly.
- Pasta. I used penne here. Rotini and farfalle are also great options.
- Romaine. The classic Caesar salad base! It has great crunch and stands up well to the creamy dressing. I recommend buying romaine hearts and washing and chopping them yourself so you can get them just the size you want and maximally crispy.
- Tomatoes. Cherry or grape tomatoes are optional but a nice pop of color and flavor. Quartered heirloom tomatoes would be gorgeous in the peak of summer.
- Croutons. Homemade croutons elevate this in a serious way!
- Parmesan. You can use either shredded or grated Parmesan — I especially like the big shavings so you can get true forkfuls in each bite. You can buy pre-shredded Parmesan or cut them yourself off a block using a sharp knife or an adjustable thickness cheese slicer.
- Dressing. Use your favorite store-bought or a homemade dressing for a real treat!
Can I use rotisserie chicken in a Caesar salad?
Yes! To save time, skip pan-frying the chicken yourself and use a shredded rotisserie chicken.
Are homemade croutons hard to make?
No! If you have a baguette or loaf of French or Italian bread, you can make homemade croutons with about 5 minutes of active work and 30 minutes of baking time. It’s easy and very satisfying!
How do you make Caesar salad dressing at home?
Caesar salad dressing is also quick and easy to make at home, and keeps for about a week in the fridge. Try this classic version with a mayonnaise base, or lighten things up with my favorite lime Greek yogurt version. Neither is too salty, fishy, or garlicky — they’re just right.
How To Make a Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
First, cook your pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling water with a generous pinch of salt added. Watch closely and drain the pasta just when it hits the al dente mark — you don’t want it to be mushy at all.
While the pasta is cooking, prep your chicken by seasoning it on both sides with kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Lightly pan-fry the chicken until golden brown and cooked through. You can cook the chicken on the grill, too.
Set the chicken aside to cool a bit, then chop it into bite-sized pieces to add directly to the salad. Of course, if you’re using rotisserie chicken meat, simply shred or chop and set aside.
This salad is also a great way to repurpose any leftover Italian dressing baked chicken breasts!
In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta, chopped chicken, romaine, tomatoes, croutons, and Parmesan. Drizzle with about 1/2 cup of dressing and toss well. I find it best to add more dressing to taste after tossing the first half cup in, for maximum control over how drenched the salad is, since what constitutes a well-dressed salad can vary a lot according to taste.
Toss one more time, dig in, and enjoy!
Can I make a Caesar salad ahead of time?
Normally you want to keep dressing off of salad until just prior to serving, so that the lettuce and other ingredients don’t absorb too much and become soggy. The best way to work ahead with this recipe is to prep your chicken, croutons, and dressing — all of those can be done several days in advance — and simply assemble when needed.
Because the pasta adds heartiness, this particular salad can be kept for an hour or two in the refrigerator, or even up to a day. However, if you expect to have a large amount of leftovers or want to make this a meal prep, consider combining the pasta, chicken, lettuce, and tomatoes in a large bowl, then adding the cheese, dressing, and croutons as you eat individual portions.
- Substitute the chicken with garlic butter shrimp, grilled or roasted salmon, or bites of steak.
- Add chickpeas, plain or roasted, for a meat-free alternative that still offers protein.
- Use spinach or kale in place of all or part of the romaine for another texture and the nutritional benefits of a dark, leafy green.
- Add more veggies — bell peppers, shredded carrots, diced cucumber, or chopped red onion are all easy ways to add more nutritional heft and possibly clean out your crisper drawer!
More Easy Pasta Salads
Love this? Try my protein-packed pasta salad with chickpeas and roasted red pepper, balsamic tortellini Caprese, light lemon orzo salad with feta, or chicken pesto pasta salad next.
This is truly Caesar salad but elevated, and perfect for summer BBQs, potlucks, and those days when you just want something super simple for dinner that truly minimizes time spent in the kitchen. I hope you love it as much as I do!
If you try this Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad, don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. I love hearing how recipes turn out in your kitchen, and it helps other readers, too.
You can also FOLLOW me on PINTEREST, INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK, and TWITTER for more great recipes and ideas!
Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
- 12 ounces penne or another pasta shape
- 2-3 thin-sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 hearts of romaine chopped
- 1-2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes halved
- 1/2 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
- 1-2 cups croutons store-bought or homemade
- 1/2-1 cup Caesar dressing store-bought or homemade
- Boil a large pot of water; add a generous pinch of salt, then cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain, toss with a very small drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking, and set aside.
- While pasta cooks, prepare the chicken. Sprinkle both sides evenly with garlic powder, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Warm olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. When hot, add chicken. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, until chicken develops a brown outer crust and is cooked through. Remove to a cutting board; when cooled slightly, cut into bite sized pieces and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta, chopped chicken, romaine, tomatoes, and Parmesan. Drizzle with about 1/2 cup of dressing and toss well. Add croutons and more dressing to taste. Enjoy!
- To save time, skip pan-frying the chicken yourself and use a shredded rotisserie chicken.
- To take this up a notch, use homemade croutons and/or Caesar dressing. Both can be made as much as 3 days in advance.
- This keeps well for about a day in the refrigerator; if you expect to have a large amount of leftovers or want to make this a meal prep, consider combining the pasta, chicken, lettuce, and tomatoes in a large bowl, then adding the cheese, dressing, and croutons as you eat individual portions.