This simple chicken and tomato salad gains extra flavor from a basil dressing, but the croutons really steal the show. Savory Parmesan polenta cubes become crispy, panfried delicacies, adding crunch and a hint of sweet cornmeal.
Smoked Chicken Salad with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
For the croutons:
2 cups (14 oz./440 g) instant polenta
4 Tbs. (2 oz./60 g) unsalted butter
2⁄3 cup (3 oz./90 g) grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbs. olive oil
For the dressing:
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. prepared pesto
2 cups (3⁄4 lb./375 g) cherry tomatoes
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1⁄2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 smoked or roasted whole chicken breast
To make the polenta croutons, in a large, heavy saucepan, cook the polenta according to package instructions. Remove from the heat and vigorously stir in the butter and cheese until evenly distributed. Rinse a 12-by-17-inch (30-by-43-cm) rimmed baking sheet with cold water and shake it dry. Immediately mound the polenta in the pan and, working quickly and using a spatula repeatedly dipped in hot water, spread the polenta in an even layer about 1⁄2 inch (12 mm) thick. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand for at least 1 hour at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove the chilled polenta from the refrigerator about 1 hour before using. Cut the polenta into 1⁄2-inch (12-mm) cubes.
In a frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the 2 Tbs. olive oil. When hot, add the polenta cubes, in batches as needed to avoid crowding, and sauté until lightly browned on all sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
To make the dressing, in a glass measuring pitcher, whisk together the 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest and juice and pesto. Set aside.
Preheat an oven to 400°F (200°C). Put the cherry tomatoes in a bowl and drizzle with the 3 Tbs. olive oil and sprinkle with 1⁄4 tsp. each salt and pepper and the thyme. Toss to coat. Place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until their skins are wrinkled but not yet collapsed, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Lower the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C). Wrap the chicken breast in foil and place it in the oven to warm, about 15 minutes. Remove it and slice it very thinly.
Arrange the chicken slices on a serving platter. Top with the cherry tomatoes and drizzle with some of the pesto dressing. Sprinkle with the polenta croutons, add another drizzle of the pesto dressing and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Find more vibrant and versatile salads for every season in our cookbook Salad of the Day, by Georgeanne Brennan.