Sometimes you come across a little cooking technique that sets off a bell: ding, ding, ding.

I found this one as I was looking for ideas for what to do with leftover orzo, but it would work with any quick-cooking pasta shape.

For this pasta salad, you put a pot of water on for the orzo and while waiting for it to boil, coarsely shred the zucchini and gather the dill and feta. As soon as the orzo is al dente, you drain it in a colander and immediately add the shredded vegetable to the hot-from-the-pot pasta so that it “cooks” – or more accurately wilts.

Scoop that combination into a serving bowl, toss with your choice of cheese and herbs, and you’ve got a delicious main course or a perfect side in about 20 minutes.

To create a complementary side to one of my favorite spice rubs for grilled chicken – oregano, chile powder and smoked paprika spice – I added the crumbled feta and fresh dill, but you can be creative. Consider grated Parmesan with basil and chives, as the original recipe called for, or any herby combination.

On weeknights if I’m craving grilled foods, I sometimes rely on quick-cooking chicken cutlets and my stovetop grill pan for a faster result, but keep this side dish in mind as you fire up the grill this Memorial Day and beyond. It would make a great addition to a potluck, too, if you’re starting to venture out a bit more.

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Grilled Chicken With Zucchini Pasta Salad

35 minutes

4 servings

The first thing to do here is to shred the zucchini because the tender raw vegetable will be folded into hot-from-the-pot orzo and allowed to wilt. We added a bit of crumbled feta and fresh dill, but consider grated Parmesan and fresh parsley, basil or chives, or an herby combination. This pasta dish is great on its own. It also complements grilled food, such as beef, chicken or eggplant. We rubbed chicken cutlets with a smoky spice paste and cooked them on a stove-top grill pan for a quick, light and summery supper.

If you can’t find chicken cutlets, buy two chicken breasts and use a sharp knife to cut each breast half through the equator to butterfly. Slice through so the meat eventually opens like a book. Separate the two halves. Trim and discard any visible fat.

Make Ahead: The pasta salad is best freshly made, but it can be made up to 1 day ahead.

Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated, separately, in airtight containers for up to 3 days.

Notes: If time allows, remove the chicken from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before cooking to take the chill off the meat, which will ensure more even cooking.

To cut waste, don’t toss the dill stems. Mince them and toss them into the pasta with the fronds.



8 ounces whole wheat or regular orzo

1 large zucchini (about 12 ounces), coarsely shredded, about 3 cups

1 large lemon, zested and juiced

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, plus more as needed

3/4 cup crumbled feta (about 4 ounces)

1/4 cup fresh dill fronds, lightly chopped, plus more for serving.


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, preferably smoked

1 teaspoon light or dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Greek

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Pinch finely ground black pepper (optional)

4 chicken cutlets (about 1 pound total), see headnote


Make the orzo: In a large pot over high heat, bring a quart of water to a boil, add the orzo and cook according to the package directions until al dente, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain into a colander, then add the zucchini and toss together. Let sit for 1 minute.

Transfer the zucchini and orzo mixture to a large bowl, and toss with the lemon zest and juice, oil, salt and pepper and let cool, about 10 minutes. Add the feta and dill and toss to combine. Taste, and season with more salt and/or pepper as needed. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

While the pasta is cooling, grill the chicken. If using a well-seasoned grill pan, place it over medium-high heat until a few drops of water sizzle and quickly evaporate, about 3 minutes. If using a grill, oil the grates well. If using a gas grill, preheat it to medium-high, about 450 degrees. If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal in a chimney; when the briquettes are mostly white and ashy, and distribute them under the cooking area for direct heat. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for about 4 or 5 seconds. This recipe may take about 15 to 20 minutes longer if using a charcoal grill.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, paprika, brown sugar, chipotle, oregano, salt, garlic powder and pepper until combined.

Pat the chicken dry and then rub the spice mixture all over. Add the chicken to the grill. If using a stove-top grill pan, reduce the heat to medium 1 minute after adding the cutlets. Grill, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes. Then flip, and grill until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 160 degrees, about 5 minutes.

Serve the chicken atop or beside the orzo, with fresh dill fronds sprinkled on top, if desired.

Nutrition | Calories: 501; Total Fat: 18 g; Saturated Fat: 6 g; Cholesterol: 98 mg; Sodium: 746 mg; Carbohydrates: 49 g; Dietary Fiber: 7 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 37 g.

Pasta salad adapted from Good Housekeeping. Spice rub adapted from Eating Well magazine.

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