At some point in your lives you’ve almost surely had this. When I’m feeling lazy I make a batch of this and bring it along—people seem to love it, although it’s somewhat retro in its way. I think the country went through a lot of this in the 1980s. It’s a nice change from the potato salad that at least one other guest is sure to bring.
Let’s pretend you have to leave about noon-ish to get to your summer get-together. Start making this at 9 or 9:30 AM the day of. It doesn’t take long; you need some quality fridge time with it.
Grill 2 lbs. of boneless chicken breasts. You can do this in a skillet. This goes pretty quickly. Remove and let cool. You can marinate the chicken beforehand (say overnight) if you have a marinade you particularly enjoy, but I seldom do this.
Boil 8 oz of penne until al dente. Drain in a colander and leave it there.
Get out a large plastic lidded container that you wouldn’t mind never seeing again. Into it:
Dice 4 tomatoes, medium to large, into bite-size chunks.
Slice a large cucumber into 1/2” disks, no need to peel. Use 2 cucumbers if you want.
Throw in some greens, like baby spinach leaves, rinsed and dried. This will depend on how much you like spinach. Just buy a bag of it and use however much they give you, should be in the 10—12 oz. range.
Cut some really sharp cheddar into 1/2” cubes. Use about 8 oz. I use more because I wuv a good sharp cheddar cheese.
Run some cold water into your colander to get the penne nice and cool. Shake out as much of the water as you can. Add that to the plastic container.
Your chicken breasts should be cool enough to handle by now. Slice them into strips, 2” by 1”. Into the plastic container they go.
Mix this all up and put it in the fridge.
When it’s time to go grab some vinaigrette you’re trying to get rid of, but you’ll need about 8 oz. If your vinaigrette is in a plastic bottle so much the better. Also take along a serving spoon, to help out the host.
Once you get to the summer get-together, ask the host if it’s OK to serve this out in your plastic container or do they have a bowl they prefer you use? Either way, now is the time to mix in the vinaigrette with the serving spoon. Leave the spoon in the serving container/borrowed bowl and let the guests help themselves. This ought to be enough for 8 to 12 people who want to have a little, especially if everyone is bringing something and your host is barbecuing.
Grab a wine cooler or a Michelob and feign excitement about a woman being on the national ticket for the upcoming Presidential election. Be adamant that Mondale can still pull it off, despite what the polls might indicate.