I love a hearty cold pasta salad in the summer. This version is inspired by the classic Greek flavors of shrimp, feta and tomatoes, which is a favorite combination for me. The fresh tomato vinaigrette and pops of salty feta marry with Greek-inspired herbs, with a little fennel for crunch and bite. Hearty enough to serve on its own, but you could also scoop into lettuce leaves for a bit of green.
There is a little technique here, but it isn’t difficult. You want to extract juice and some pulp from a really ripe tomato and the best way to do this is to simply rub the flesh through a sturdy wire strainer. And yes, I tried pureeing a tomato in a food processor and blender and it just isn’t the same. Simply pull out the core the press it and the outer shell of the tomato through the strainer – just rub it all against the mesh until you have ¼ cup of slightly pulpy juice. I add a couple of small seed-free pieces of the flesh for body and blend it all up. And here is my best method for poaching shrimp for a cold dish. Plunge them into boiling liquid, cover the pan and remove from the heat. They will gently poach without getting tough, then drop them into ice water to stop the cooking and keep them tender. I prefer to dice the fennel very finely – I love the really bright, bracing flavor it adds and the perfect crunch, but you don’t want large pieces that would overpower everything else. If you really don’t like or can’t find fennel, finely chopped celery would add the right texture. Pick up the smallest grape or cherry tomatoes you can find and cut them in half. You want everything to fit on a fork. And please, buy a block of feta and not the pre-crumbled kind. Small chunks add bursts of salty flavor, the crumbled kind turns to powder that can get gummy in the pasta. Add the dressing a bit at a time, just to coat everything without having a pool of excess dressing. You may not use all of it. To make this salad ahead, prepare the vinaigrette, poach the shrimp and combine the orzo ingredients except the tomatoes. Finish assembling shortly before serving so the salad doesn’t get watery.
Shrimp, Orzo and Feta Salad
- For the Fresh Tomato Vinaigrette
1 very ripe tomato, about 8 ounces
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil
- For the Shrimp
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined, thawed if frozen
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup white wine
2 cups water
- For the Orzo
1 ½ cups orzo
4 cups water
12/ cup very finely diced fennel, from about ½ of a small fennel bulb
4 green onions, finely diced
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
8 ounce block of feta cheese, cut into very small cubes
1 pint small cherry tomatoes
- For the Vinaigrette:
- Place a fine wire mesh strainer over a bowl (or directly over the carafe of a blender). Cut the tomato in half and squeeze out the flesh into the strainer. Press the flesh and the outer shell against the strainer with your fingers to extract pulpy juice into the bowl. Just rub the tomato flesh against the strainer and watch it fall through. You need ¼ cup juice for the dressing. Pour the juice into the blender carafe. Take about a 2 inch piece (or pieces) of the outer tomato flesh and make sure there are no seeds attached, then drop it into the blender. Add the vinegar honey, mustard, a generous pinch of salt and generous grinds of black pepper and blender until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the motor running until emulsified.
- For the Shrimp:
- Fill a bowl with ice and water and put it in the sink. Put the wine, lemon juice and water in a deep skillet and bring to a boil over high heat. Drop the shrimp into the boiling water and count to 60 Mississippi. Cover the pan and turn off the heat. Leave the shrimp for 5 minutes. The shrimp should be curled and pink and cooked through (leave a bit longer if needed). Drain the shrimp and put them in the bowl of ice water for a few minutes, just until they are cool. This stops the cooking and keeps them tender, but don’t leave them in the cool water too long. Put the shrimp in the refrigerator.
- For the Orzo:
- Put 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan and generously salt it. Add the orzo and cook according to the package instructions (about 8 minutes). Drain in a wire mesh strainer and rinse with cool water to remove the starch and cool the orzo down. Stir in about a tablespoon of olive oil (do it right in the strainer) to prevent sticking, then leave the orzo to drain and cool.
- When the orzo is cool, put it in a large bowl. Add the finely diced fennel and green onions and stir with a large fork to distribute. Add the chopped herbs and stir to evenly distribute. Pour over a little of the vinaigrette and stir to coat. Add the cubed feta and stir to distribute, then add a bit more vinaigrette (do not use all of it now). You just want the dressing to lightly coat the pasta and cheese. You can make the salad at this point up to a day ahead. Store the shrimp separately and pour the remaining vinaigrette in a jar and keep it all in the fridge.
- No more than an hour before serving, cut the cherry tomatoes in half and add to the salad. Stir with the fork to combine. Add the shrimp and stir to distribute, adding a little dressing as you go, just until everything is lightly coated. You may not use it all. Store the salad in the fridge until ready to store.