~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad ~
These yummy little appetizer-snacks, like my deviled egg creations, go to a lot of Summer picnics and a few early Fall tailgates too. The best way to describe them is individual and portable portions of chop-chop salad, and, most people can't keep their hands off them. They can contain anything your heart desires, as long as the ingredients play well together and are chopped into small morsels prior to judiciously drizzling (not drenching), with a cuisine-appropriate dressing or vinaigrette just prior to spooning the salad into the shells and serving.
Since I cook all sorts of cuisines, sometimes my chop-chop salad stuffed shells take on an Asian twist, an Italian flair, a Mediterranean tang or an Eastern European earthiness. In the case of today's chop-chop, it's a colorful combination of healthy ingredients to enjoy this evening while sitting on our deck watching the Fourth of July fireworks display here in Happy Valley.
Try not to confuse "chop-chop" with composed salads of chopped ingredients that are meticulously lined up side-by-side (like the famous Cobb salad), or, carefully layered. The basic, "chop-chop" is a flavor-packed mixture of cooked protein, fresh or marinated vegetables, crispy lettuce or a mix of greens, and, an optional herb or two. The list of optional "toppings" (that's what they're called when ordering at a chopped-salad bar) is lengthy: cheeses, eggs, beans, lentils, dried fruits, crunchy nuts, seeds, toasts or, croutons. Chop-chop salad can be served as a starter course, a side-dish or the entree, but, unlike its cousin, the tossed salad, where you pick and choose each forkful:
A well-conceived chopped salad is like eating a sandwich sans the bread. The components are evenly distributed and they're not overdressed. There's a taste of everything in every bite.
Every culture that eats salad has their own version of the chop-chop salad. Chopped salads have been around for a very long time, but, they became epidemically popular here in the NE in 2001 when the chain Chop't launched in NYC. As a salad lover, I hopped on-board, and, if a restaurant had a chop-chop salad on the menu, I ordered it in place of the my usual favorites. As it is goes with many things, the foodie powers-that-be couldn't leave a good thing alone. Instead of enjoying a carefully-chopped, flavor-packed, colorful melange of "healthy harmony", I found myself eating over-chopped mounds of unappetizing ingredients -- they looked like they were run over by a lawnmower.
Part One: Cooking the Pasta Shells
Note: The box contains more pasta shells than you will use, by more than a few, however, each box contains some that are cracked or broken, and, during the cooking process, a few more are going to rip or tear. I know, it seems wasteful (though they're still edible), but, it is necessary to cook the whole box.
~ Step 1. In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Gently add the pasta shells, by hand, 5-6 at a time, and cook until al dente, about 10-12 minutes. Drain into a colander and immediately rinse with very cold water. Rinse again, and again, until shells are cold to the touch.
~ Step 2. Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan (or a similar sized plate) with paper towels. Pick out 36+ of the prettiest shells (those without rips or tears) and place them, in a single layer, opened side down, on the pan. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside to drain of excess moisture, about 15-30 minutes. While the shells drain:
Part Two: Chop-chopping the Salad Ingredients
Shrimp is the star here, so, you'll only find crispy, crunchy, subtly-flavored salad "toppings" included in today's mixture -- no overpowering cheese please, and, my favorite store-bought brand of Light Italian dressing (Wishbone Light), so as to enhance, not overpower the shrimp. Trust me when I tell you to use Wishbone Light -- it's emulsified and nicely seasoned which means it won't separate over time like a homemade vinaigrette will inevitably do. Trust me.
2 pounds jumbo shrimp (21-25 count), peeled, deveined, tails removed, cooked, drained, chilled and chopped into small 1/4"-1/2" pieces, about 4 cups of small-chopped cooked shrimp (Note: For complete instructions on how to perfectly cook shrimp, read my recipe for ~ Once upon a time... A Tale about Shrimp Cocktail ~ in Categories 1, 11, 14, 16 or 21.)
1 pound large broccoli florets, blanched for 3 minutes in boiling, salted water, about 2 cups small florets removed from the stems of 1 pound blanched florets
1 2 1/4-ounce can sliced black olives, well-drained, about 1/2 cup
2 ounces yellow or sweet onion, about 1/2 cup finely-diced onion
6 ounces iceberg or romaine lettuce, shaved into small chards, 3 cups chiffonade of lettuce
1 cup Wishbone Light Italian dressing
~Step 1. Prep all of the ingredients as directed above. Place them all in a large bowl and add the dressing. Using a pair of salad servers, gently toss until all of the pretty vegetables and shrimp are thoroughly combined and lightly coated in the dressing. Using a tablespoon, scoop into the cooked shells. Serve now, or, cover and refrigerate for 1-8 hours prior to serving.
Serve now, or, cover & refrigerate 1-8 hours prior to serving:
Special Equipment List: 8-quart stockpot; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; paper towels; plastic wrap; cutting board; chef's knife; salad servers; tablespoon; deviled egg plate (optional)
Cook's Note: Next to deviled eggs, everyone loves "cold salad stuffed into a pasta shell" recipes. For another one of my year-round favorites, click into Categories 1, 11, 14 or 20 for ~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/Spicy Crab Cocktail ~.
This crab-and-mayonaise-dressed recipe pairs so well with today's shrimp-and-vinaigrette-dressed recipe, for really large gatherings, I make them both and serve them side-by-side.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)