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~ Jumbo Pasta Shells Stuffed w/Spicy Crab Cocktail~

IMG_6901'Tis the season of cocktail parties and celebrations.  After all, once the halls have been decked, who doesn't want to invite a few friends over to share the festive atmosphere.  Every one of us who has ever entertained over the holiday season knows:  now is the time to pull out a couple of shiny serving trays and fill them up with elegant, one or two bite, finger-foods.  The hors d'oeuvres can be hot or cold, budget-friendly or expensive, but finger-foods are the crown jewel of the cocktail party circuit.  Every one of us who has ever entertained over the busiest time of year also knows:  now is the time to choose a couple of time-saving, make-ahead, appetizers! 

IMG_6870This recipe has become so popular at my gatherings, I must share it to kick off my 2012-13 holiday posts. I will add that it is not limited to Christmas and New Years. Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, at any time of day or at any type of gathering, everyone adores these "things"!

The funny part is, my recipe came about by default.  It was New Year's Day, 2001.  I had four couples coming to our house for a champagne brunch, to toast the Millenium with Joe and I.  I had a bowl of my spicy crab cocktail in the refrigerator, but, when I went to reach for the baguette (for me to slice and turn into toasts), it was gone.  This could not be happening to me!  

IMG_6825That baguette must have been left at the checkout of the grocery store because I physically remember putting it in the "kiddie seat" of my grocery cart.  Knowing that no store in Happy Valley would be open on this day, I entered my pantry.  I stared at a box of Saltine and Ritz crackers for a moment but found those to be disagreeable options. My mind switched gears to adding pasta to the cocktail and serving it as a salad on lettuce leaves, until I saw that box of jumbo shells... the perfect foil for seafood cocktail:
















IMG_69591  12-ounce box jumbo pasta shells  (Note:  The box contains more pasta shells than you will use, by about a dozen, however, each box contains a few shells that are cracked or broken, and, during the cooking process, a few more are going to rip or tear.  Therefore, it is necessary to cook the whole box.)

1  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available

4  ounces finely-diced red onion (a scant 1 cup)

4  ounces finely-diced celery (a scant 1 cup)

6  ounces store-bought, pre-grated sharp white cheddar cheese (a scant 1 3/4 cups)

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

1  teaspoon lemon juice, fresh or bottled concentrate

1  tablespoon cayenne pepper sauce, more or less, to taste

1/2  cup mayonnaise, plus 1-2 additional tablespoons, if necessary

a light sprinkling of freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for topping

24  very small fresh parsley sprigs, for garnish

IMG_6845 IMG_6838~ 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.

IMG_6853~ Step 2.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan (or a similar sized plate) with paper towels.  Pick out 24 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:

IMG_6859 IMG_6855~ Step 3. Prep and place the onion and celery in a large mixing bowl as you work.  Add the cheese.  

~ Step 4.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the three together. Add and fold in the celery seed, lemon juice and pepper sauce.  Fold in the mayonnaise.

IMG_6869 IMG_6863~ Step 5. Gently fold in the crabmeat, making sure it remains in large lumps.  If mixture seems too dry, add a bit of additional mayonnaise, but don't overdo it. You want to taste crabmeat, not mayonnaise.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

IMG_6883~ Step 6.  Generously spoon the crab cocktail into the shells, about 2 tablespoons in each.  Garnish each with a small sprig of parsley. Arrange shells on a serving platter. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, or, overnight.  Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes prior to serving chilled (not ice cold). Uncover.  Top with freshly ground sea salt & peppercorn blend:

IMG_6904Jumbo Pasta Shells Stuffed w/Spice Crab Cocktail:  Recipe yields 24 appetizers, or 8-12 servings allowing 2-3 per person.

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; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b015437988abb970c-800wiCook's Note:  For something a little more classic, you can find my recipe for ~ Once upon a time... a Tale about Shrimp Cocktail ~, in Categories 1, 11, 14, 16, or 21!  

6a0120a8551282970b0162fd23f6da970d-800wiMy recipes for  ~ Two "Cocktail" Sauces: Classic & Creamy ~, can be found in Categories 8 or 20~

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


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