Pasta With Shrimp and Sicilian Pesto 4.000

Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post; food styling by Bonnie S. Benwick/The Washington Post

Dinner in Minutes Feb 5, 2019

This old-school recipe redefines pesto you might be used to making or buying. Its liquid component is a quick broth instead of oil, which keeps the dish light and extracts maximum flavor from the shellfish.

It also affords a good opportunity to use up any leftover amounts of dried pasta shapes you have on hand -- all that nubbiness works nicely with the shrimp. In testing, we used raw almonds per the original recipe; if you would rather not bits of almond skin in your pesto, use whole blanched almonds or almond slivers. Cherry tomatoes are juicier and therefore better for this recipe than grape tomatoes.

Serve with a green salad.

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4 - 6

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 4-6 servings

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds shell-on, U.S. wild-caught shrimp (26-30 count), defrosted if frozen
  • 2 cups water
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, plus 1 or 2 for garnish (see headnote)
  • Kosher salt
  • 12 to 16 ounces dried, short shaped pasta, such as elbow macaroni or fusilli
  • Leaves from 4 stems fresh mint
  • Leaves from 2 to 4 stems fresh basil, plus a few leaves for garnish
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 12 whole (raw) almonds (may use blanched whole or slivered almonds; see headnote)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, plus more for garnish


Peel and devein the shrimp, placing the shells and tails in a medium saucepan along with the water and tomatoes. Reserve the shrimp on a plate.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook the shell mixture for 20 minutes. The tomatoes should burst; if they don't, pierce them with tip of a sharp knife during cooking.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous pinch or two of salt and the pasta; cook according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, and return the pasta to its pot.

Strain the shrimp-tomato broth, discarding the solids. Return the broth to the small saucepan. Increase the heat to high; boil for 3 minutes, so the broth has reduced to about 1 cup (and its flavor is concentrated). Keep 1/2 cup of it in the pan, then pour off the rest (save or discard). Turn off the heat.

Finely chop the mint, basil, garlic and almonds; add to the small saucepan, along with the pine nuts. Use an immersion (stick) blender to puree into a loose, frothy sauce, adding more of the reduced broth, as needed. Taste, and season lightly with salt.

Add the reserved shrimp to the pesto sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently and frequently, just until the shrimp is just opaque and pink.

Pour the sauce and shrimp into the pot with the drained pasta, along with 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Stir to incorporate, adding more of the remaining pasta cooking water as needed to keep the pasta saucy. Cook over low heat, just until the pasta is warmed through.

Transfer to a large warmed serving bowl. Garnish with more pine nuts, and an extra tomato and fresh basil leaf or two.

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Recipe Source

Adapted from “Adventures From an Italian Food Lover,” by Faith Willinger (Crown, 2007).

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.

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