Monday, July 9, 2012

Shrimp Cocktail Pasta Salad

Saturday In the Park by Chicago
A few years ago I accompanied my husband on a business trip to a town on the outskirts of Chicago.  I knew I was going to want to explore the Windy City a bit, being so close and all.  I had traveled through Chicago many times but had never stopped and spent time there.  I checked out my transportation options and discovered that I could catch the "L" right in to the center of town and the Magnificent Mile.  By the looks of the train timetable I was going to be spending about 30 minutes in transit.  Normally I'd read a book.  But I wanted to observe the neighborhoods and get a feel for the residents of the city.  So I made up a playlist of songs about Chicago, by Chicago (the band), and songs that had an edgy inner city feel like Lose Yourself by Eminem.  It turned out to be the perfect backdrop as I traversed each community on my way inbound.  Since today's recipe was inspired by the lunch I had that day, I decided to choose a song from that playlist - one to which I could see myself eating this summer meal!

My first time exploring the streets of Chicago was sensory overload!  That city has so much going on!  I rode the "L" in from the suburbs and was deposited into the cacophony of a downtown urban symphony.  I thought I had memorized the immediate landmarks from my map and the route I'd be taking while I was on the train.  I didn't want to appear like a tourist when I got on foot.  No deal.  I was all mixed up when I emerged onto the street so out came the map.  It didn't take long, though, to get my bearings and I was off in hot pursuit of the Magnificent Mile!

The Magnificent Mile is precisely that - magnificent.  Although I'd add Marvelous, Monumental, and Momentous to that tag as well.  It wasn't what I had pictured.  You wouldn't mistake it for any other big city.  I found it unique in that, in some stretches the stores seemed almost small-towny - independent businesses offering their specific trade.  Then you'd happen onto the predictable large shopping centers - home to every imaginable retailer that ever breathed!  How could I take it all in in the short amount of time given?  I guess I'd just have to give it my best!  And I did!

It was't long until that "best" had me pretty fatigued.  I needed some lunch.  But where to go when you're alone.  The idea of going somewhere local didn't appeal to me.  With the onslaught of so much that was new I was thinking I'd like to find something familiar - something comfortable.  NO!  Not the Golden Arches kind of comfortable!  Although that is perfectly acceptable in my book - just sayin'.  

The answer came in one of the shopping centers.  As I scanned the dining options I noticed that they had a California Pizza Kitchen on board!  That would be perfect!  I could put my feet up, relax, and let someone wait on me and have a delicious meal!  Now, where is that escalator?!

I was seated right away, thankfully in a little booth in a corner with plenty of bench space to hold my bags.  I didn't need to calibrate my hunger - I knew I was ravenous!  An appetizer was definitely going to be in order! 

The first thing my eyes landed on was a shrimp cocktail variation.  It was served in a sort of martini glass but it was more of a salad than the traditional cocktail.  The shrimp was cut up and mixed with celery and the sauce.  I was intrigued so I ordered it.

I don't remember anything else I had that meal - that day - that trip.  I just couldn't wait to get home and try to make that shrimp appetizer again.  Why hadn't I thought of this myself?!  Shrimp is my favorite food!  I'm always thinking of ways to get more shrimp!  Why hadn't I thought of a shrimp cocktail salad before?  I recognized it right away as the perfect lunch on a hot summer day.  Over the years it has evolved, depending on my mood.  I started throwing in avocado, sometimes some cilantro, maybe some sweet peppers for color.  The possibilities are endless, really.

Then, recently, I got the idea to make it into a more substantial summer meal and added some cooked pasta.  It's all in there - your protein, your starch, your veggies.  It's a meal in itself!  And I can vouch that, for a hot and balmy summer evening, it's exactly what you're going to want to eat!

Shrimp Cocktail Pasta Salad
serves 6 - 8
Printable Recipe Card
1 lb. cooked and peeled shrimp
10 oz. farfalle, or other shaped pasta
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped, or halved cherry tomatoes
2 green onions, sliced
1 c. arugula, sliced thin
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1 c. ketchup
2 T. horseradish
zest and juice of one lemon
salt to taste

Prepare your shrimp by chopping them into bite-sized pieces.  Remove the tails, if not already done.  Reserve a handful of the pieces and add the rest to a large mixing bowl.

Heat a large pot of water to boiling.  Add a small handful of salt, then the pasta.  Cook according to package directions until al dente.  Drain and cool by running cold water over it.  Shake off excess water and set aside.

Add the celery, tomatoes, green onions, and arugula to the large mixing bowl with the shrimp.  Add the drained and cooled pasta and toss to combine.

In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, horseradish, and lemon juice and mix well.  Taste and add more horseradish if desired.  Everyone's threshold for horseradish is different so feel free to tailor this to your own liking.

To present this dish I waited to mix the cocktail sauce until I was ready to serve.  I made a small well in the middle of the salad and spooned the sauce into that well.  Then I used the reserved pieces of shrimp and formed a ring around the perimeter of the sauce.  I dropped the pieces of avocado around the circle of sauce and then sprinkled the lemon zest over the top.
When time to serve, simply take a large serving spoon and give it all a stir and season with salt.  You could also reserve some of the arugula for a garnish on the plate.  I served this last night with some slices of artisan bread I found at our farmers market.  I'd say we liked it - rather well!

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