One evening while sailing the Mediterranean, a glass of ouzo in hand and the setting sun on our faces, we were asked an important question: what would you like for dinner? The boat’s chef Stavros was eager to please, making us anything from poached sea bass to Nutella with yogurt. We felt like something light and fresh but also traditionally Greek, since we could spy the coastline rich with olive trees not a mile away. Stavros nodded and disappeared back into the cabin, only to emerge 30 minutes later with two plates of pasta. Tender noodles were dressed with tomatoes, cucumber and olives, topped with the most heavenly grilled chicken I have ever smelled and a creamy feta sauce. We ate on the bow perched on a blanket, each bite washed down with a crisp white wine.
After dinner we dove into the water for a midnight swim. The moonlight bounced along each small wave and we bobbed along happily with full tummies, pleasantly drunk, our skin still warm from the sun.
And then I woke up. The baby was crying. I got tangled in a cloud of balloon strings on the way to the bathroom. Crap. It was a dream. Greece seemed maddeningly far away.
On the bright side, I had dream-invented a recipe. I had been reading this recipe from Saveur right before bed, and naturally my subconscious put my own twist on it. It also invented the perfect vacation that I won’t be able to take for several years, but at this point I’ll just have to settle for this pasta salad. This fresh, light pasta salad topped with juicy herbed chicken and a cool, creamy feta sauce.
To make it, you’ll first need to marinate some chicken thighs. Breasts work too, although I find chicken thighs with their fattier, darker meat grill better and stay more moist. For the marinade, grab some olive oil, oregano, lemon, garlic, thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Use fresh herbs whenever possible.
Place the ingredients in a small food processor or blender.
Whip it on up.
Rinse the chicken, place in a large freezer bag and coat with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, preferably 24.
For the pasta and sauce you’ll need noodles (tube-shaped work best; I like mostaccioli), kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, sour cream, grape or cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, lemon, and cucumber.
To make the whipped feta sauce, toss the feta, sour cream, lemon juice, and olive oil in the food processor.
Blend until smooth.
Cook the pasta and let drain.
Chop up the tomatoes and cucumber into whatever shape and size you like.
Drain some olives…
…and give them a quick chop.
Drain some sun dried tomatoes, reserving the oil.
Run your knife through those as well.
Toss the pasta with the reserved sun dried tomato oil and throw in the veggies.
When you’re ready to eat, preheat your grill to medium.
Grill the chicken thighs for roughly 6-7 minutes per side, or until juices run clear and the middles are no longer pink.
The marinade makes this chicken impossibly moist—it reminds me of the chicken you’ll find in most shawarmas at Greek restaurants. It will give you serious garlic breath, but it’s worth it.
Serve the chicken atop a helping of pasta with a dollop of feta sauce on top.
I’m so pissed at my subconscious for taunting me with the sunny Mediterranean and then yanking it away, but thankful that it left me with the idea for this recipe.
Would it have killed you, brain, to leave me with Stavros as well? He was pretty easy on the eyes, and a fantastic chef to boot.
Serves 8 as a main course.
Inactive Prep Time: at least 8 hours for marinating chicken. Active Prep Time: 30 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes
For the chicken:
- 2 small lemons or 1 large
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- several sprigs fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried
- several sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried
- several leaves fresh basil, or 1 tsp dried
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 8-10 boneless skinless chicken thighs, rinsed
1) Juice lemons into small food processor. Add olive oil, garlic, oregano, thyme, basil, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth.
2) Place chicken in a large freezer bag. Pour in marinade. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or up to 3 days.
For the whipped feta:
- 4 oz crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 c sour cream or plain yogurt
- salt and pepper to taste
1) Place feta, olive oil and sour cream or yogurt in a small food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the pasta salad:
- 1 lb tube-shaped pasta
- 2 tbsp sun dried tomato oil (from jar of sun dried tomatoes packed in oil)
- 1 cucumber, peeled and diced
- 15-20 cherry tomatoes, cut in halves or quarters
- 1/3 c chopped kalamata olives
- 1/4 c chopped sun dried tomatoes
1) Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and pour into a large bowl. Toss with the sun dried tomato oil.
2) Toss pasta with the cucumber, tomatoes, olives and sun dried tomatoes. Top with one chicken thigh and a dollop of whipped feta. Serve.