Delicious & Easy

Tomato and Shrimp Aspic with Pesto Cheese

This is Not Your Mother's Jell-O Salad.

Here's a beautiful and light salad option for a special occasion that will entertain and wow the table. 

This dish, except for the garnish, has been prepared traditionally for decades in Italy, but with reduced collagen as the thickening agent. Forgo the lengthy process by using agar, which won't melt as it sits on the side table, or unflavored gelatin which will start to weep the longer it is out of the refrigerator. 

Recommended tools

  • A Jell-O ring or mold for the tomato aspic and smaller, molds or cookie cutters for the pesto cheese garnish. Smear the insides of the ring with a light bit of oil, especially in any creases, then wipe lightly with a paper towel. 
  • A pedestal serving dish.

Ingredients for

Tomato and Shrimp Aspic with Pesto Cheese

For the aspic

  • ¾ cup of dissolved agar (or 3 envelopes of unflavored powdered gelatin dissolved according to package directions)  
  • 32 ounce can chopped tomatoes with juices
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs
  • ¼–½ cup olives
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • ½ cup warm fish, shellfish, or chicken broth
  • 16 ounces cocktail size shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives or tarragon, minced

For the pesto leaves

  • ¼ cup pesto sauce
  • ½ cup of agar threads dissolved and warm
  • 1 Garlic and Fine Herbs Boursin Cheese
  • Lettuce greens, sliced lemon, and olive oil for garnish

Instructions for

Tomato and Shrimp Aspic with Pesto Cheese

Prepare the agar or gelatin

Cut the agar threads into half-inch pieces and pack them to the ¾ line in a measuring cup. Soak for 15 minutes or overnight. Then cook in the water, stirring with a metal spoon, for 5 to 10 minutes until there are no visible dots or thread residue when you dip a clean metal spoon into the mixture. This ensures that the agar (or gelatin) will mix entirely and set. Keep it warm, or reserve and reheat to melt the agar. If using powdered gelatin, follow the package directions.

Prepare tomatoes 

Add 32 ounce can of chopped tomatoes in their juices to a large cooking pot. Squeeze the tomatoes with your hands to macerate the pieces. Add diced onion, lemon, sugar, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, then reduce to medium heat for about 20 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh over a bowl and save the juice in the pot.

The leftover pulp can be used in recipes later.

Prepare the other ingredients

Hard boil eggs. Cool, peel, and thinly slice. Slice olives.

Lightly sauté peeled shrimp and chill until ready to assemble.

Assemble and Chill

Add ½ cup of warm fish broth, shellfish broth (mussel or clam), or chicken broth to the tomato liquid and bring it back to a boil. Remove from heat and mix the agar (or gelatin) into the hot broth.

Stir in minced chives or tarragon. Add the white vinegar and mix.

Decoratively arrange egg and olive slices in the mold. Slowly ladle in a shallow layer of the tomato broth then add shrimp evenly between ladles. Take your time here. The shrimp and other ingredients will float if not done carefully. It can be a complicated process to keep the shrimp distributed evenly so make sure to wait for 5 to 10 minutes between each layer of aspic. It should be just tacky to touch, not solid, or layers will come apart. Lightly scoring the aspic between layers with a fork helps them to adhere to each other. Repeat until the ring mold is full. Skipping these steps or not waiting long enough in between layers will cause the shrimp to float to the surface. It’s tricky but a little patience makes it less intimidating.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Prepare the Pesto Cheese Garnish

Pour a ¼ cup of store-bought pesto sauce into a mixing bowl. Soften one wheel of Boursin cheese. Mix with ½ cup of prepared agar. Pour into small, silicon molds (the leaf design used here) or onto a baking sheet and chill for at least four hours. Use cookie cutters once gelled.  

To Serve 

Invert the raised platter over the mold and carefully invert both. If the mold doesn’t release, set it in a hot water bath for about 45 seconds. Place unmolded pesto cheese leaves around the tomato ring.

Bring to the table and slice for guests.

Serve on a bed of lettuce greens drizzled with oil and lemon and added pesto cheese to garnish.

Frequently asked

Questions About This Recipe

Where can we find agar threads or can you use powdered agar or unflavored gelatin?

Find agar threads at a market like 99 Ranch or Zion Market. They're inexpensive by the bag. Another option is to use packets of powdered agar which are less work or make this with unflavored Knox gelatin, which requires chilling overnight.

If using powdered agar or gelatin, prepare it according to the package directions.

Preparing the pesto leaves with gelatin won’t work. They fall apart.


Notes & Thoughts

Read the full story by Elaine Masters

Not Your Mother's Jell-O