8 & $20: Spicy Shrimp Pasta

A few simple kitchen hacks and a distinctive Italian white wine add depth to a quick-and-easy tomato sauce

8 & $20: Spicy Shrimp Pasta
For this dish, use the same dry white wine in the sauce that you are serving with the meal to create a more seamless pairing. (Rebecca Firkser)
Oct 13, 2022

Inspired by fra diavolo, the spicy Italian tomato sauce permeated with shellfish and often served over linguine, this dish has a few tricks up its sleeve, all designed to save money—without sacrificing flavor. If your kitchen is stocked with the usual “pantry pasta” fixings (garlic, olive oil, dry oregano, canned tomatoes, long pasta), you may not have to buy more than shrimp and parsley.

Shrimp is expensive, yes, but absolutely packed with flavor, especially when used creatively. Instead of buying peeled shrimp, go for them with the shell and tail on. Not only does buying them this way tend to be cheaper, but the exterior also stores tons of untapped flavor, which you—not the garbage can—deserve to devour. In most dishes that call for unpeeled shrimp, I’d suggest saving the shells for stock, but here, why not make a quick shrimp stock to boil your pasta in?

Buy a half-pound of medium shrimp and cut them out of their armor. Place the shells and tails in a pot of water, then slowly bring it to a boil; you’ll salt it, then cook a pound of pasta in this briny liquid. Meanwhile, sauté the shrimp until just barely pink, then make a spicy red sauce with canned tomatoes (if opting for whole peeled, break up the tomatoes a bit with kitchen shears or your hands), garlic and lots of red pepper flakes. Balance the sauce with a good glug of white wine—more on that in a minute—and (another budget-friendly secret!) a hit of fish sauce. Italian colatura di alici (made from anchovies) is great if you have it, but a Southeast Asian style will do just as well. Drain the pasta from its brew and toss it into the sauce with the shrimp.

When it comes to the wine, I pour a half-cup into the sauce, then the rest of the bottle comes to the table. A dry (but not too dry) Italian white is best, and while you could use any you have on hand, I like Verdicchio or, if you can find it, a white from the Lugana appellation such as Ca' dei Frati Lugana-Lombardy I Frati 2019 (89 points), typically priced between $18 and $20. Made from the local Turbiana grape, this light- to medium-bodied white offers sweet pink grapefruit and nectarine flavors that balance the acidity and brininess of the tomato sauce. With the wine omitted, you’ll find the sauce benefits from a pinch of sugar.

Spicy Shrimp with Pasta

Pair with a dry white wine that has sweet stone fruit flavors, a subtle note of almond or hazelnut and just enough texture and body to round out the tomato sauce, such as Ca' dei Frati Lugana-Lombardy I Frati 2019 (89 points, $19) or a more recent vintage.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Approximate food costs: $16
Serves: 4


  • 1/2 pound shell-on shrimp, medium to large, such as 26/30 size (which refers to the count per pound), roughly 12 to 16 pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided evenly
  • 1 pound long pasta, such as linguine, spaghetti, bucatini or fettuccine
  • 6 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can diced, crushed or whole peeled tomatoes (fire-roasted, if desired)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
  • 1 packed cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (leaves and all stems) or basil (leaves only)—or a mix of both


1. Use kitchen shears to remove the shrimp from their shells and tails by cutting down the outer edges and sliding out the shrimp. Place the shells and tails in a large pot (one you’ll use to boil the pasta). If the shrimp is not deveined, use a small knife or a paper towel to remove the vein from the outer edge of each piece of shrimp. Place the shrimp in a small bowl and refrigerate.

2. Add 12 cups of water to the pot with the shrimp shells and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat. Continue to boil for 10 minutes. Use a spider strainer or slotted spoon to remove the shells from the water. Discard the shells. Turn off the heat and cover the pot while you make the sauce.

3. While the shrimp water boils, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep skillet or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high. Season the shrimp with salt, then place in the skillet in a single layer. Cook for 1 minute on each side, until they just turn pink, then remove from heat and place on a plate.

4. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet with the garlic. Over medium heat, cook for 2 minutes, until the garlic is barely golden, then add the oregano and red pepper flakes (if using) and let sizzle for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, wine and fish sauce (if using). Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer the sauce for 15 to 20 minutes to thicken a bit.

5. While the sauce simmers, uncover the pot of shrimp water and return to a boil over high heat. Season the water with lots of salt and add the pasta. Cook the pasta until it’s 3 minutes shy of al dente. (It will cook more in the sauce.)

6. When the pasta is ready, turn off the heat and remove 1/2 cup of the pasta-cooking water in a liquid measuring cup. (Keep the rest of the water in the pot, in case you need more.) Use tongs to transfer the pasta to the sauce, add 1/2 cup of the pasta-cooking water and then cook, tossing often, until the pasta is prepared to your liking and each noodle is coated. If the sauce seems dry, add more pasta-cooking water by the quarter-cup until it reaches your desired consistency. Discard any leftover water.

7. Add the cooked shrimp to the sauce and stir in, along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate and the majority of the parsley or basil (all but a handful). Taste the pasta and add more salt if needed. Garnish with the remaining parsley or basil and serve immediately. Serves 4

Recipes White Wines Cooking Seafood Pairings Italy

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