I’ve been experimenting with shrimp a lot lately. Yes, it can be a little on the expensive side, but if you pair it whith an inexpensive ingredient like pasta, you can really stretch that dollar and work it into an affordable meal. This Pesto Shrimp Pasta is an incredibly easy (and FAST) recipe that will make you feel like you’re eating a restaurant quality meal at home. So even if shrimp is just a once in a while special occasion splurge, you’ll still be saving a TON by making this splurge at home instead of having it at a restaurant!
This recipe was originally posted in 2010. When updating this recipe I made only minor changes to the recipe yield, ingredient quantities, and preparation method. If you prefer the old recipe, you can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can send you a pdf of the old version.
What Kind of Shrimp is Best for Pesto Shrimp Pasta
A smaller sized shrimp works best for this recipe so you get more shrimp pieces throughout the pasta. If you check your package of shrimp you’ll see a number range specifying the number of shrimp per pound. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp (more shrimp per pound). The shrimp I used were 41-60 size, or 41-60 shrimp per pound.
You can purchase your shrimp with or without the shell and tail, but you’ll want to remove the shell and tail before cooking. You can leave the tail on, but I find that tail-on shrimp is more difficult to eat in a dish like pasta because you have to stop and remove the tail with every bite.
This recipe is written for raw (frozen or fresh) shrimp, but you can use pre-cooked shrimp if that’s what you have available. To use pre-cooked shrimp, simply add them into the pasta at the end.
How to Thaw Frozen Shrimp
If you know you’ll be making this recipe a head of time, you can transfer your shrimp from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw overnight. If you didn’t plan ahead, don’t worry! Shrimp thaws very quickly under running water. I just place my shrimp in a colander and run cool water over the shrimp for a few minutes until it has thawed. Once thawed and peeled, make sure to dab the shrimp dry with paper towel.
Can I Substitute the Shrimp?
If you’re not into shrimp, this recipe would also be good using diced chicken, sea scallops, or even chopped artichoke hearts!
Tips for Cooking Shrimp
Shrimp can be intimidating for people who have never cooked it before, but I promise it’s very easy! The trick is that shrimp cooks very quickly and if you continue to cook it longer than necessary, the proteins will continue to contract leaving you with tough, rubbery shrimp. So watch your shrimp closely and remove them from the skillet just as soon as they turn pink and opaque. It only takes a few minutes (depending on the shrimp’s size and the heat level under the skillet)!
What Kind of Pesto to Use
Pesto is another ingredient that can be pricy if you don’t shop around. I used pesto from ALDI, which is very affordable, but if you don’t have an ALDI store near you check to see if your grocery store has their own store brand, or look for Classico or Barilla brand pesto, which usually tends to be a bit more affordable. I used basil pesto for this pasta, but I bet it would also be great with other flavors!
Pesto Shrimp Pasta
- If using frozen shrimp, place them in a colander and run cool water over top to thaw (this should only take a few minutes). Peel the shrimp and remove the tails. Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Once boiling, add the pasta and continue to boil until the pasta is tender (about seven minutes). Reserve about ½ cup of the starchy pasta water before draining the pasta in a colander.
- While the pasta is cooking, prepare the rest of the dish. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add the prepared shrimp and sauté just until the shrimp turns pink and opaque (2-3 minutes). Remove the cooked shrimp to a clean bowl.
- Add another tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and add the grape tomatoes and minced garlic. Continue to sauté over medium until the tomatoes begin to burst and release their juices. If the garlic begins to brown before the tomatoes have burst, add a couple tablespoons of water to the skillet to slow the browning.
- Once the tomatoes have broken down in the skillet, add the cooked and drained pasta, ¼ cup pesto, and about half of the reserved pasta water. Stir to coat everything in the pesto, adding more of the pasta water if needed to loosen the pasta and spread the pesto over everything.
- Finally, return the cooked shrimp to the skillet and stir to combine with the pasta. Top with grated Parmesan, then serve!
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Scroll down for the step by step photos!
How to Make Pesto Shrimp Pasta – Step by Step Photos
This is the shrimp I used. 41-60 size (that means 41-60 shrimp per pound) and this is a 12oz. bag. To thaw the shrimp I placed them in a colander and ran cool water over them for a few minutes, or until they were thawed enough to peel and remove the tails. Once thawed, pat them dry with a paper towel to remove the excess water.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Once boiling, add ½ lb. angel hair pasta to the pot and continue to boil until the pasta is tender (about 7 minutes). Reserve ½ cup of the starchy pasta water before draining in a colander. You can begin cooking the shrimp while the pasta boils.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium. Once the skillet and oil are hot, add the shrimp and sauté just until they are pink and opaque (2-3 minutes), then remove them from the skillet to a clean bowl. Make sure not to over cook them!
Add the second tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet along with the pint of grape tomatoes and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Sauté the garlic and tomatoes over medium heat until the tomatoes begin to burst and break down.
If the tomatoes are not very ripe they may take a while to burst, so if your garlic begins to brown before the tomatoes start releasing their juices, you can add a couple tablespoons of water to the skillet to prevent the garlic from browning. The juices from the tomatoes will create a sweet jam-like sauce on the bottom of the skillet.
Once the tomatoes are at least half way broken down, add the cooked and drained pasta, ¼ cup pesto, and about half of the reserved pasta water to the skillet. Stir to coat everything in the pesto, adding more of the starchy pasta water if needed to loosen things up and help the pesto spread.
Finally, return the cooked shrimp back to the skillet and stir to combine with the pasta and pesto.
I like to add just a little (about 1 Tbsp) grated Parmesan on top, and you can add some chopped parsley for color if you’d like (it’s not necessary for the flavor).
Enjoy! (A little extra freshly cracked pepper on top doesn’t hurt, and if you’re into spicy try adding a pinch of crushed red pepper!)