Mediterranean Shrimp & Pasta Salad   Recipe
Mediterranean Shrimp & Pasta Salad

By Wolfgang Puck

In the 1980s, pasta salads were all the rage. It seemed every Italian restaurant in the country offered one or more of them. Many non-Italian restaurants also responded to the trend. Even at Spago, we featured a deluxe pasta salad with poached lobster.

Today, pasta salads can seem like a bit of an afterthought.

"Oh, yeah," you hear people say. "I remember when they were popular." And you might detect a note of sadness in their voices, because many people still love pasta salads but are reluctant to admit it.

Well, I'm here to tell you, without hesitation, that I still love pasta salads. And there are as many reasons why as there are variations on the basic recipe.

Right now, with the weather warming up, a cool salad is an ideal, refreshing way to enjoy pasta. With its mixture of different shapes and colors, a pasta salad is a visual delight, an important factor in good cooking considering that we eat food with our eyes before it ever crosses our lips. More practically, a salad is a great way to use up leftover pasta. And it's also an excellent reason to cook pasta from scratch.

Whether leftover or freshly cooked, make sure that the pasta isn't overcooked. Aim for the chewier side of the tender-chewy ideal Italians refer to as al dente, since the pasta will continue to soften a bit once it's tossed with the dressing. Check the pasta for doneness at the earliest moment in the time range listed on its packaging, using a slotted spoon to fish a piece out of the pot of boiling water, then blowing on it briefly until it's cool enough to eat. For salads, I like bite-sized shapes more than strands or ribbons, since they're easier to toss with the other ingredients and easier to eat.

Once the pasta has drained and cooled, or you've removed the leftovers from the refrigerator, it's time to put together the salad. For a main course, include a protein, whether freshly cooked or leftovers, in bite-sized pieces. Then, add your choice of colorful and flavorful vegetables, from steamed broccoli florets or carrot pieces to roasted bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes to thinly sliced hot chilies. Other embellishments, including toasted nuts, grated or crumbled cheeses, and chopped fresh herbs, add still more personality.

The dressing is the final touch. I like a really flavorful dressing that counterbalances the blandness of the pasta itself, like the Citrus Vinaigrette in the following recipe from my Trattoria del Lupo restaurant at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. Combined with seafood, peppers, pine nuts, and fresh basil, parsley, and mint, it adds up to a pleasing taste of summer soon to come.

Mediterranean Shrimp & Pasta Salad Recipe

Serves 4

Recipe Ingredients

    2 cups dried bite-sized pasta shells

    3/4 pound fresh small-to-medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

    Salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

    1 tablespoon pine nuts

    1 roasted, peeled, and seeded red bell pepper, cut into thin strips

    1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and thinly sliced

    1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives

    1 fresh jalapeno chili pepper, halved lengthwise, stemmed, seeded, deveined, thinly sliced

    1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

    1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves

    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

    1/2 cup Fresh Citrus Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Recipe Preparation

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.

Add the pasta shells and cook until al dente, tender but still slightly chewy, following the manufacturer's suggested cooking time.

Drain the pasta well and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the shrimp. In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.

Season the shrimp lightly with salt and pepper and saute them, stirring constantly, until they turn opaque and pink, about 3 minutes.

Transfer to a dish to cool.

In a small, dry skillet over low heat, toast the pine nuts, stirring constantly, until they turn a light golden color, about 2 minutes.

Transfer immediately to a plate to cool, during which they will continue to darken slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked pasta, shrimp, pine nuts, bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, chili pepper, basil, parsley, and mint.

With clean hands or two large salad servers, toss all the ingredients together, breaking up the pasta shells.

Add just enough of the 1/2 cup of dressing to coat the ingredients evenly, tossing well.

Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasonings with a little more salt and pepper, tossing again.

To serve, drizzle the remaining dressing on 4 individual chilled serving plates.

Mound the pasta salad on top, making sure to divide the shrimp evenly among the plates.

Pass a pepper mill at the table for guests to add extra to each serving as they like.

Fresh Citrus Vinaigrette Dressing

Makes about 2 cups

    1 medium orange, juiced

    1 medium lemon, juiced

    1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

    1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    Salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

Dressing Preparation

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the orange and lemon juices and the sherry vinegar.

While whisking continuously, slowly pour in the olive oil in a thin, steady stream until it is fully incorporated and the mixture has thickened.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Refrigerate, covered, in a nonreactive container until ready to use.

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Recipes: "Mediterranean Shrimp & Pasta Salad "

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