I grew up in a pretty rural area in Dutchess County, New York. Our house was stuck between an interstate highway and a local farm. Every spring I'd suffer through the stank of fertilizer wafting in from the field behind our backyard, but all summer long I'd reap the benefit from a fantastic roadside farm stand called Dale's. For the summers that we were too lazy to plant (and weed) our own garden, my mom would always make sure to stop on her way home from work, say hi to farmer Dale, and pick up paper bags full of sweet white silver queen corn and bulbous beefsteak tomatoes. Once you get a taste of juicy sweet farm tomatoes, no supermarket tomato ever tastes the same again. All summer I'd stuff myself silly with tomato-mayonnaise sandwiches and all kinds of tomato salads, my favorite being the tasty Italian Caprese salad. Slices of juicy tomato layered with milky mozzarella, basil leaves, and doused in a zingy-sweet balsamic dressing. Mmmm!
For this recipe, I wanted to turn the simple and classic Caprese salad into a satisfying main course that would be simple enough to do as a quick dinner. How to do it? I'd add pasta and chunks of white meat chicken. To make sure that the lean chicken breasts would be moist, flavorful, and easy to cook, I decided that poaching would be the best way to go. Before cooking the pasta, I gently simmered the chicken for about 10 minutes in a flavorful broth of chicken stock, basil, black peppercorns, and lemon. After, I coarse shredded the chicken into bite sized pieces and put it right back in the cooking liquid—the perfect way to keep the chunks of chicken succulent.
And that's the most difficult part of the dish. All of the other ingredients (outside of the pasta) are fresh, so it's really just a matter of chopping it all up and assembling. When tossed together while the pasta is still warm, the tomatoes and mozzarella soften just a touch, and the balsamic dressing soaks into everything just so.