Imagine a one-pot shrimp pasta dish: a cross between a garlicky scampi and a zippy, lemony piccata, with a little bit of creamy sauce tossed in for good measure.
That’s what we envisioned when we started work on this recipe. We wanted tender, succulent shrimp and lots of rich, silky sauce balanced with just enough vibrant lemon and briny capers. The sauce needed to be fully flavored with garlic and white wine, but it also needed to support (not upstage) the star of the show: the shrimp.
We also wanted the recipe to work with everything from freshly caught shrimp to the frozen-aisle stuff. If you’re careful to buy the right thing, you can find excellent flash-frozen shrimp in many grocery stores. Look for individually quick frozen (IQF) shell-on shrimp that are wild caught in U.S. waters. They should be untreated, meaning the only ingredient listed on the package should be shrimp (not salt or additives such as sodium tripolyphosphate).
Our recipe for shrimp piccata pasta begins with using the shrimp shells to make a simple stock — why throw away all that flavor? Using the shells like this is an easy way to cook the flavor of shrimp into the sauce without ever having to worry about overcooking the shrimp themselves.
We then cooked the pasta in the garlicky shrimp stock, which made this a one-pot meal and allowed the starches from the pasta to thicken the cooking liquid, yielding a luscious, creamy sauce. When the pasta is just al dente, you add the seasoned shrimp and gently poach them for 2 minutes in the garlicky sauce.
Adding fresh, citrusy parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice along with grated lemon zest, and a sprinkling of capers provides just enough of an acidic counterpoint to balance the richness of the creamy sauce. Grated Parmesan adds a salty, savory finishing touch that takes this shrimp pasta from delicious to irresistible.
- 1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled, deveined, and tails removed, shells reserved
- 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt, divided
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 7 garlic cloves, peeled (6 smashed, 1 minced)
- 2 anchovy fillets, rinsed (optional)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 12 ounces (3 1/3 cups) orecchiette
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Grated Parmesan cheese
1. Cut shrimp crosswise into thirds. Sprinkle shrimp with 1/2 teaspoon salt; set aside. Combine reserved shrimp shells, oil, smashed garlic and anchovies, if using, in a large Dutch oven and cook over medium heat until shells are spotty brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Stir in wine and cook until the liquid is nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add water and remaining 2 teaspoons salt, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Using a spider skimmer or slotted spoon, remove shells from shrimp stock and transfer to a bowl. (Some garlic cloves may be inadvertently removed at this point; this is OK.) Pour any stock that has accumulated in the bottom of the bowl back into the pot. Discard shells.
4. Stir pasta into stock and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is al dente, 10 to 14 minutes (some liquid will remain in the bottom of the pot when pasta is al dente).
5. Stir in shrimp and cook, uncovered, until opaque, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Off heat, stir in parsley, capers, lemon zest and juice, pepper flakes and minced garlic. Stir vigorously until the sauce is thickened, about 1 minute. Serve with Parmesan.
- You can substitute 12 ounces (4 1/2 cups) of medium pasta shells for the orecchiette, if desired.
- We prefer untreated shrimp (those not treated with salt or additives such as sodium tripolyphosphate). Most frozen E-Z peel shrimp have been treated (the ingredient list should tell you). If you’re using treated shrimp, do not salt the shrimp in Step 1.
- You can use medium or large shrimp, but you may need to reduce the cooking time in Step 5.
- The pasta will not absorb all the cooking liquid in Step 4; stirring vigorously in Step 5 helps thicken the sauce so that it coats the pasta.