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~ Hail to the Grill-Panned Shrimp Caesar Pasta Salad ~

IMG_5847We Americans love our Caesar salad.  Over the course of the past four decades, the Caesar salad has overwhelmingly become America's favorite salad.  If you are a lover of a crisp and tangy classic Caesar salad, and, you love your Caesar salad with plump, tender grilled shrimp (or chicken) tossed into it, there's more.  If you are a lover of pasta salads too, you are gonna fall in love with this recipe.  Adding pasta and a protein to a Caesar salad makes sense on many levels.  Besides stretching it to feed a crowd, it turns it into a hearty and refreshing main-course salad perfect to serve at any almost any gathering -- a picnic, potluck or tailgate.

IMG_5668A bit about the shrimp.  When it comes to grilling shrimp, the larger they are the better the finished product.  Jumbo shrimp are my hands-down favorite.  It the time it takes to get some nice browning on the outside, about 2 1/2 minutes per side, they cook just through to their centers without overcooking them -- this will not happen with smaller sized shrimp.  Jumbo shrimp emerge plump, juicy and succulent.

Hail to the Grill-Panned Shrimp Caesar Pasta Salad:

IMG_5665For 1 very large family-style salad or 6 smaller-but-hearty main-dish salads:

3  pounds peeled, deveined and thawed raw jumbo shrimp, tails-on, (16-20 count), 4-5 dozen shrimp (6-8 shrimp per salad)

IMG_56013/4-1  cup homemade creamy Caesar dressing, or, your favorite store-bought brand, for seasoning shrimp (Note:  There's no shame in using your favorite brand of store-bought dressing to make this family-friendly salad.  Mine is made by Wish-Bone.   It's bold and tangy, and, it's got aged Parmesan cheese in it.  You'd be wise to give it a try!)

12  ounces rotini pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions, then, drained and cooled according to my directions (12 ounces uncooked pasta = 9 cups cooked pasta = 1 1/2 cups cooked pasta per salad)

1  tablespoon sea salt, for adding to pasta water

1 1/2 cups creamy Caesar dressing, for tossing into salad, divided in half, 3/4 cup to be tossed in with the pasta, then 3/4 cup more to toss in when lettuce, onion and cheese are added as directed below (2 tablespoons per salad to toss in with the pasta, then 2 more tablespoons per salad to toss in when lettuce, onion and cheese are added)

12  cups, torn into bite-sized pieces, romaine lettuce leaves (2 cups per salad) 

2  cups thinly-sliced, slices cut into half-moons, red onion (1/3 cup per salad)

6  tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese (1 tablespoon per salad)

2  cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half, for garnishing salad (1/3 cup per salad)

2  cups Caesar-style croutons, for garnishing salad (1/3 cup per salad)

all the grill-panned shrimp (6-8 shrimp per salad)

6  tablespoons additional cheese, for garnishing salad (1 tablespoon per salad)

additional creamy Caesar dressing for drizzling on salads, if desired, at tableside

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill pan

IMG_5785 IMG_5785 IMG_5785Step 1.  Thaw shrimp as package directs. Using a pastry brush, paint tops of shrimp with a scant teaspoon of dressing.

IMG_5591 IMG_5591 IMG_5591 IMG_5591 IMG_5799 IMG_5799 IMG_5799~Step 2.  Spray the surface of a grill pan with no-stick cooking spray. Working in batches of 16-24 shrimp at a time, so as not to overcrowd the grill pan, pick the shrimp up by their tails and place them, slightly apart and dressing-coated side down, in the grill pan.  Paint the new top-side surfaces (the second sides) of the shrimp with a scant tateaspoon of the creamy Caesar dressing.  Adjust heat to medium- medium-high.  Cook until shrimp are turning opaque and lightly golden on the first side, about 2 1/2 minutes.  Flip the shrimp over and cook until golden on the second side and cooked through, 2-2 1/2 additional minutes.  Repeat process with remaining shrimp.  Don't have a grill pan?  Worry not, use a large nonstick skillet.  Transfer shrimp to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside.

IMG_5810 IMG_5810 IMG_5810 IMG_5810 IMG_5816 IMG_5823~Step 3. Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with plastic wrap and a layer of parchment paper.  Set aside.   In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil and add the salt.  Add the pasta to the boiling water.  Cook the pasta to al dente, as directed, in salted water, about 9-10 minutes -- do not overcook the pasta, meaning: error on the side of ever-so-slightly undercooking it.  Drain it into a colander, and, immediately rinse it under cold water.  Why?  Bringing it quickly to room temperature halts the cooking process, and, pasta that is rinsed of its starch will not get sticky or gummy.  Thoroughly drain and transfer pasta to a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" parchment-lined baking pan to cool completely and "dry", meaning, just long enough to dry free from water, not completely dry out, about 30 minutes.

Note:  To this point, both the shrimp and the pasta can be covered and refrigerated overnight.

IMG_5804 IMG_5804 IMG_5804 IMG_5804~Step 4.  Before assembling the salad, tear the romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces and set aside.  Slice the red onion as directed and set aside.  Slice the grape tomatoes.  Set aside.  Proceed with assembling the salad as directed.

IMG_5826 IMG_5826 IMG_5826 IMG_5831 IMG_5831 IMG_5831 IMG_5831~Step 5.  To assemble one large salad or six smaller salads, place the pasta in appropriately-sized bowl(s).  Add the first half of the Caesar dressing and toss to thoroughly enrobe the pasta in it's own layer of flavorful dressing.  Add the torn lettuce, sliced onion and Parmesan cheese and second half of the dressing.  Toss again to thoroughly combine.  Garnish the top of the salad with the halved cherry tomatoes, the crispy croutons, the shrimp and a scattering of additional shredded cheese.

Hail to the Grill-Panned Shrimp Caesar Pasta Salad: 

IMG_5839Hail to the Grill-Panned Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad too: 

IMG_5743Hail to the Grill-Panned Shrimp Caesar Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields 1 large family-style salad or 6 smaller-but-hearty main-dish salads.

Special Equipment List: pastry brush; nonstick grill pan or skillet; paper towels; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ddaaa9200dCook's Note: How does shrimp sizing work?  In a shrimp shell -- it doesn't.  Why?  There is no industry standard for it. One vendor's medium, may be another vendor's extra-large and vice versa.  This explains why many new-to-shrimp buying cooks are confused by these seven words:  extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large, jumbo, colossal.  When purchasing shrimp, the most important words to know aren't words, they are numbers.  Read ~ Purchase Shrimp by their Count, Not by their Size ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)


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