Shrimp Pasta in Garlic Tomato Cream Sauce

Shrimp Pasta in a garlicy tomato cream sauce on your table in 30 minutes!

 This deceptively easy shrimp pasta recipe will have your whole family falling in love! It’s quick and easy enough for every day but so divine it could headline any gourmet restaurant and is perfect for special occasions (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays)! This shrimp pasta boasts juicy, succulent shrimp in a rich, bright, garlicky tomato cream sauce loaded with sweet bell peppers and zucchini.  Of course, this recipe is incredibly versatile, add whatever veggies you like or omit them altogether. Serve shrimp pasta alongside strawberry spinach salad and garlic bread or garlic breadsticks and you have the perfect meal.

Shrimp pasta recipes are one of my favorite dinners make because they’re so quick and easy.  Some of my favorite shrimp pasta dinners include: Cajun Shrimp PastaLemon Garlic Butter Shrimp FettuccineSun-Dried  Tomato Basil Shrimp PastaRoasted Shrimp and Broccoli AlfredoShrimp Scampi and One Pot Lemon Garlic Cream Ravioli with Shrimp and of course this new Shrimp Pasta recipe!

top view of shrimp pasta recipe with tomatoes

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SHRIMP PASTA RECIPE

This shrimp pasta recipe is comforting, satisfying, unbelievably flavorful, worthy of your recipe binder, worthy of company, and most importantly, worthy of your time.  It’s tomato-y, garlicky, creamy, with a pop of freshness from the bell peppers and basil.  Its hypnotic blend will have you savoring each rewardingly complex bite. Best of all, this shrimp pasta is uber quick to prepare with hardly any cleanup! Here’s what to know:

Why this shrimp pasta recipe works:

Delicious.   Nothing else would matter if this shrimp pasta wasn’t spectacularly delicious – check!  It stands out above other shrimp recipes because the juicy, plump shrimp are swaddled in a perfectly seasoned, exquisitely delicious homemade marinara sauce spiked with heavy cream.  But don’t let the word “homemade” scare you – the whole dish still takes less than 30 minutes!  We are simply elevating pantry friendly crushed tomatoes with sautéed onions, garlic, a pinch of sugar, bouillon to add dimension and plenty of dried herbs –parsley, oregano and thyme, loads of fresh basil (although you can substitute dried), sweet bell peppers to add sweet freshness and a splash of heavy cream that elevates it a lick-the-plate scrumptious home run!

Quick and easy.  This shrimp pasta may look gourmet but it’s easy enough for entry level cooks and comes together in minutes!  The shrimp is simply seasoned with salt and pepper then cooked for just a few minutes on each side.  Next, the onions, bell peppers, zucchini and garlic are sautéed, then you dump in the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stir in the heavy cream and basil and an easy weeknight dinner win with little cleanup and TONS of YUM is served.

Pantry friendly ingredients.  Just pick up some bell peppers and zucchini, or whatever veggie you want to add, and you’ll have everything you need to make this shrimp pasta recipe!  The rest of the ingredients are pantry friendly including the shrimp – I always keep frozen shrimp stocked in my freezer.   Now you can make this better-than-restaurant shrimp pasta any night of the week, even in your slippers!

Versatile.  This shrimp pasta recipe can work with whatever you have on hand.  Swap the veggies, omit the veggies, add sausage, use fresh basil, use dried basil, etc.  As long as you stick to the dreamy sauce, you can’t go wrong.

SHRIMP PASTA RECIPE INGREDIENTS

This shrimp pasta ingredient list may look a little lengthy but remember, most of the ingredients are just dumped into the pot and left to simmer! Here’s what you’ll need:

FOR THE SHRIMP:

  • I suggest uncooked shrimp that have already been peeled and deveined.  Buying prepared shrimp makes your job a snap because all you have to do is thaw the shrimp. 
  • I like to use medium shrimp, 31-40 count shrimp (which means there are 31-40 shrimp in a pound), so you get shrimp in every bite without having to pause to cut up the shrimp.  If you only have larger shrimp on hand, that will work as well, you will just have to cut as you go, or cover your mouth as you chew 😊.

FOR THE PASTA:

  • Recommended pasta: you can pretty much use any medium pasta for this recipe.  I prefer pasta with spirals, grooves or ridges so the sauce has something to cling to and doesn’t slip right off.  Some good options are penne, rotini, radiatori, fusilli or cavatappi.  Long pasta such as spaghetti or fettuccini would also be tasty.
  • Pastas types:  you can use classic pasta, whole-wheat pasta or gluten free pasta.  For low carb, try it over zoodles or spaghetti squash. 

FOR THE SAUCE:

  • Crushed tomatoes: will often be called crushed tomatoes in puree. They provide fresh tomato flavor and texture.  I recommend the brands San Marzano and Muir Glen.  San Marzano tomatoes are usually sold “whole” so you will want to pour them into a bowl and crush them with your hands first.
  • Tomato paste: adds rich, concentrated tomato flavor. I store unused tomato paste by the tablespoon in the freezer for easy use.
  • Fire roasted diced tomatoes:  are tomatoes that have been roasted which gives them a complex sweet smokiness and are far less acidic than traditional tomatoes. Fire roasted tomatoes are located next to the traditional diced tomatoes – just make sure you purchase the ones without any added seasonings. You can use plain diced tomatoes if you can’t locate fire roasted.
  • Aromatics:  onions and garlic are the building blocks of flavor.  Feel free to use more garlic depending on your garlic love. For lazy day shrimp pasta, you can substitute the fresh ingredients with 1 teaspoon garlic powder and ½ teaspoon onion powder, or more to taste.
  • Red pepper flakes: add just the right kick but won’t make the recipe “spicy,” just flavorful.  If you want a spicier marinara sauce, like marinara Arrabiata, then add ½ teaspoon or more red pepper flakes.
  • Dried herbs:  parsley, oregano, and thyme bolster the sauce with Italian flavor. If using fresh herbs, you will need 3X the amount. Stir fresh herbs in the last few minutes of simmering so they don’t lose their flavor.
  • Fresh basil: because fresh basil is AMAZING!  You may substitute with 1 tablespoon dried basil added to the sauce with the other dried herbs.
  • Chicken Bouillon infuses the sauce with intense flavor to make it taste like it’s been simmering all day.  You can use granulated bouillon, better than bouillon or bouillon cubes in equal amounts.  If using bouillon cubes, don’t dissolve them in water first, simply crush and add directly to the sauce.  
  • Sugar: tomatoes are highly acidic so they need to be balanced by some sugar.  The amount of sugar will vary (even between the times you make it), depending on personal taste and the acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Vegetables:  chopped bell peppers add sweetness that really make the dish pop and zucchini adds an earthy freshness.  They also add varying texture to the shrimp pasta. You don’t have to add these veggies, but I highly recommend them!   
  • Heavy cream:  Traditional Bolognese is finished with a splash of heavy cream, called “heavy whipping cream.” I’ve borrowed that technique for this shrimp pasta recipe and it makes a world of difference! It tones down the acidity and adds a splash of swanky creaminess.  You may omit if you prefer but will need to add additional sugar.
showing how to serve shrimp pasta by adding to a white bowl and garnishing with Parmesan and basil

CAN I USE JARRED MARINARA?  

Yes, you can use jarred marinara.  I recommend a 24 oz. jar quality marinara sauce such as Rao’s.  You will still want to amp up the store-bought sauce with the all of the herbs and seasonings listed in the recipe but you may not need quite as much. 

CAN I USE FRESH TOMATOES?

Absolutely!  Using fresh tomatoes from your garden is a brilliant way to take advantage of their juicy freshness.  You will need the equivalent amount of crushed tomatoes listed in the recipe.  Make sure you blanch and peel your tomatoes first, then working in batches, chop them in the food processor for a chunkier sauce or process further for a soother sauce.  Depending on how sweet or acidity your tomatoes are, you may need to add more or less sugar to the marinara sauce.

DO I HAVE TO USE HEAVY CREAM?

The shrimp pasta sauce will be too acidic without the heavy cream because it is not being simmered for an extended period of time.  The heavy cream levels the sauce to the perfect acidity.  You may substitute with evaporated milk, half and half or milk.  You may also try and level the acidity with sugar or sour cream instead. Alternatively, if you don’t want to add dairy, use store-bought marinara such as Rao’s or Barilla along with the herbs listed in the recipe (you may need to reduce the herbs). 

CAN I MAKE THIS GLUTEN FREE?

Yes, this shrimp pasta recipe is easy to make gluten free because the sauce is already gluten free.  Simply serve the sauce over your favorite gluten free pasta (Tinkyada is great brand), sweet potato noodles, zoodles or spaghetti squash to keep it gluten free. 

CAN I PEP THIS RECIPE AHEAD OF TIME?

This shrimp pasta can be pepped ahead for an even quicker dinner! You can prep some of the ingredients or make the sauce completely ahead of time.  Here’s how: 

  • Prep shrimp:  if you are using frozen shrimp, thaw it the night before.  Peel and devein the shrimp if needed. See instructions below.
  • Cook pasta:  cook pasta according to package directions, drain and rinse in cold water. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together, then store in an airtight container.  When ready to use, warm the pasta by adding directly to the warm sauce before adding the shrimp.  
  • Chop vegetables and aromatics:  chop the bell peppers, zucchini, garlic, onions and fresh basil and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • Make the sauce:  go one step further and completely simmer the sauce, including adding the heavy cream.  The next day, sauté the shrimp, add to the sauce and dinner is served.

HOW TO thaw SHRIMP

You will want to use raw shrimp for shrimp pasta recipe.  I typically use frozen shrimp and simply thaw it before using.  This way, I can make this recipe without running to the grocery store. There are two options for thawing your shrimp.

  • Easy Thaw: The easiest way to thaw your shrimp in the refrigerator overnight. Simply remove one-pound frozen shrimp (if it’s more than a one-pound package) to a covered bowl and let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Quick Thaw: Place the frozen shrimp in a colander then place the colander in a large bowl. Fill the bowl with cold tap water and let it sit for 10 minutes.   After 10 minutes, replace the water with new cold tap water and submerge the shrimp again.  Let shrimp sit an additional 10- 20 minutes.  If the shrimp isn’t completely thawed, then repeat.

HOW to CLEAN SHRIMP BEFORE COOKING

I like to purchase shrimp that is already peeled and deveined so all the work is done for me!   If you purchase shrimp that is not deveined, it will still have the dark, sandy intestinal tract running along the back of the shrimp just beneath the surface.  Sometimes it will be very dark and sometimes it will be harder to spot depending on when the shrimp ate last.

While eating the shrimp with the veins won’t harm you, it can add grittiness and distract from the clean shrimp taste so I highly recommended removing it.  To devein shrimp:

  1. First, locate the vein in the shrimp running along its back.
  2. Make a shallow cut and use the tip of the knife to lift it out.
  3. The veins and shells can then be thrown away.
  4. Rinse the shrimp and lay on a paper towel to dry.

HOW TO MAKE SHRIMP PASTA

This shrimp pasta is easy to make by following these step-by-step instructions (full recipe measurements at the bottom of the post in the recipe card):

  • Step 1:  Cook pasta.  Cook pasta just until al dente according to package directions.  Al dente means the pasta will still have a little bite. Reserve ½ cup pasta water before draining pasta.  This will give you the option to thin the sauce if needed with reserved pasta water. 
  • Step 2:  Cook shrimp.  Season shrimp with salt and pepper and cook in sizzling butter and olive oil for just a couple minutes per side.  You can chop off tails once the shrimp is cool enough to handle.
showing how to make shrimp pasta by sauteing shrimp in a stainless steel skillet
  • Step 3:  Sauté vegetables.  Sauté the onions in the now empty skillet for a few minutes followed by the bell peppers and finally the zucchini, garlic and red pepper flakes.  You don’t want to sauté everything at once or you’ll end up with raw onions and mushy zucchini!
showing how to make shrimp pasta by sautéing bell peppers and  zucchini in a stainless steel skillet
  1. Step 4:  Make sauce.  Stir in crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and all seasonings. Gently simmer for about 10 minutes.
showing how to make shrimp pasta by adding crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes and Italian seasonings

Step 5:  Combine!  Stir in the heavy cream and fresh basil and warm through. Stir in shrimp and pasta and warm through. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and parsley if desired and dig in!

a collage showing how to make shrimp pasta by adding heavy cream, shrimp and pasta to the skillet
a collage showing how to make shrimp pasta by adding heavy cream, shrimp and pasta to the skillet

why should I COOK SHRIMP WITH the TAIL ON?

Cook your shrimp with the tails on because the tail shells contain flavor that seeps out and we get more robust shrimp flavor, much like cooking meat on the bone.  Once your shrimp is cooked and resting you can remove the tails if you desire. 

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY SHRIMP IS DONE COOKING?

  • Color:  Raw shrimp starts off translucent gray and as it cooks, it turns pink and opaque with some pink and bright red accents.  You will want to remove the shrimp from the skillet as soon as it is fully opaque without any gray left.  Look at the crevice in the back of the shrimp where the vein was removed.  When the base of this crevice becomes opaque, the shrimp is done.
  • Shape:  You can also check the shape of your shrimp but this is not as good of an indicator as color.  As shrimp cook, their muscle contract which cause them to curl.  As soon as the shrimp begin to curl, they are usually done cooking.  Some claim that perfectly cooked shrimp have “C” shape while over cooked shrimp have an “O” shape.  I think you’ll find that almost all shrimp, maybe with the exception of jumbo shrimp, still have an “O” shape without being overcooked.

TIPS for cooking shrimp pasta recipe

  • Use a non-reactive pan. A heavy bottom stainless steel pan is ideal for this shrimp pasta recipe because it conducts heat evenly, gets very hot and doesn’t react with tomatoes. Tomatoes are highly acidic and metal cookware such as cast iron can make them taste bitter and metallic. Tomatoes can also wear off the nonstick coating on nonstick pans, making the pans age more quickly.
  • Don’t overcrowd shrimp.  Cook the shrimp in a large skillet or in batches so it has room to spread out and sear for the best flavor and texture and not just steam.
  • Don’t over-cook shrimp.  Cook shrimp just until opaque for the juiciest shrimp. 
  • Salt pasta water.  You should always salt your pasta water – it is the one chance you have for the flavor to penetrate the pasta and enhance the subtle pasta flavor – you can taste the difference.  Use 1 tablespoon salt for 6 quarts of water.
  • Don’t overcook pasta. I recommend testing your pasta 2 or 3 minutes before the box recommends – pasta should be al dente– meaning it should still be a little firm in the center/ have a “bite” to it.  
  • Stop pasta from cooking.  If your pasta is done before your sauce, then rinse in cool water to prevent it from continuing to cook.  Don’t worry about the pasta being cold because the sauce will warm it right up once combined.
  • Prevent pasta from clumping.  If you’re not using the cooked pasta right away, toss it with a little olive oil.  This will prevent it from sticking together.
  • Heavy cream tones down acidity.  Heavy cream creates a luxurious sauce and tones down the acidity.  If you are skipping the heavy cream, then use half and half, evaporated milk or regular milk in its place.
  • Garnish!  Garnishing your individual servings of shrimp pasta with freshly grated Parmesan and fresh parsley.  They really enhance the flavors and takes this pasta to a whole new level!
showing how to make shrimp pasta by adding to a bowl

SHRIMP PASTA RECIPE VARIATIONS:

This shrimp pasta is delicious as written or feel free to customize it with different protein, veggies, etc.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Swap protein.  I know this is SHRIMP pasta, but the sauce is so heavenly, you’ll want to experiment with other proteins as well just like I did with my rigatoni recipe.  Try substituting the shrimp with Italian sausage, ground beef, ground chicken sausage, etc.
  • Vegetarian pasta. You can make this pasta vegetarian by omitting the shrimp – although you will miss the succulent morsels!  You can add in firm tofu or extra veggies such as mushrooms, green beans, eggplant, etc. 
  • Swap the vegetables.  Although bell peppers are a favorite in this shrimp pasta recipe, you can swap them for different veggies such as asparagus, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, spinach etc.
  • Add artichokes.  For the artichoke lovers!  Artichokes are tender, slightly sweet and nutty. Purchase artichoke hearts in water NOT marinated. The marinated ones often have an acrid taste.  Chop and add to the simmering sauce.
  • Make it spicy.  ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes will have a kick but if you really want to bring the heat, add ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes.  You can also add additional red pepper to individual servings to keep it pantry friendly.
  • Swap sauce.  You can swap the crushed tomatoes for a store-bought sauce with a different flavor profile such as sun-dried tomato, roasted red pepper, vodka cream, etc.

HOW LONG IS SHRIMP PASTA GOOD FOR?

Shrimp pasta should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  When properly stored, it is good for up to three days.

HOW DO I REHEAT SHRIMP PASTA?

This shrimp pasta recipe reheats well so you can enjoy leftovers for days!  Take care to cook the pasta al dente, especially if you are going to be reheating and don’t overcook the shrimp! 

  • Microwave:  Add a splash of water or milk to your individual serving; no need to stir it in, yet.  Microwave for one minute, stir, then continue to heat at 30 second intervals until warmed through.
  • Stove:  For larger portions, reheat gently on the stove until warmed through.  Add a splash of water or milk to thin the sauce because it will have thickened in the refrigerator. 

Can I freeze shrimp pasta?

Shrimp pasta is best served fresh, but it can be frozen, just take the pasta is al dente. To freeze:

  • Let the pasta cool to room temperature.
  • Transfer to a freezer safe container.
  • Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Allow to thaw completely in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Reheat per instructions.

WHAT TO SERVE WITH shrimp PASTA RECIPE?

We love this shrimp pasta recipe with a big salad and Garlic Bread.  It is also delicious with any of the following:

top view of shrimp pasta recipe in a white bowl being held by two hands
top view of shrimp pasta recipe garnished with parsley

Shrimp Pasta in Garlic Tomato Cream Sauce

This deceptively easy shrimp pasta recipe will have your whole family falling in love! It's quick and easy enough for every day but so divine it could headline any gourmet restaurant and is perfect for special occasions (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays)! This shrimp pasta boasts juicy, succulent shrimp in a rich, bright, garlicky tomato cream sauce loaded with sweet bell peppers and zucchini.  Of course, this recipe is incredibly versatile, add whatever veggies you like or omit them altogether. Serve shrimp pasta alongside strawberry spinach salad and garlic bread or garlic breadsticks and you have the perfect meal.
Servings: 6 servings
Prep Time: 12 minutes
Cook Time: 18 minutes

Ingredients

SHRIMP

  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled deveined
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 tsp EACH salt, pepper

PASTA

  • 1 lb. penne
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers (orange or yellow), chopped
  • 1 small zucchini sliced ¼-inch thick into half moons
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, minced
  • pinch -¼ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
  • 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree (no salt/seasonings added)
  • 1 14.5 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes (not drained)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar, more or less to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon
  • 1 tsp EACH dried oregano, dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp EACH dried thyme, salt, pepper
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped (may substitute 1 tablespoon dried)

Instructions

  • Cook pasta al dente according to package directions in salted water. Drain, toss with a drizzle of olive oil and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoon butter in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large heavy bottom pan over medium high heat. Add shrimp and season with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook for approximately 2-3 minutes per side, just until opaque, then remove from skillet. Chop off tails once cool enough to handle if desired.
  • To the now empty pan (don’t clean out oil), heat 1 additional tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for 3 minutes. Add bell peppers and sauté for 2 additional minutes. Add zucchini, garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 1 additional minute.
  • Stir in crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, bouillon and all seasonings. Gently simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Stir in the heavy cream and fresh basil and warm through. Stir in shrimp and pasta and warm through. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and/or sugar to taste.
  • Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan Cheese and parsley if desired.

Notes

  • Pasta: you can pretty much use any medium pasta for this recipe.  I prefer pasta with spirals, grooves or ridges so the sauce has something to cling to and doesn’t slip right off.  Some good options are penne, rotini, radiatori, fusilli or cavatappi.  Long pasta such as spaghetti or fettuccini would also be tasty.
  • Crushed tomatoes:  I recommend the brands San Marzano and Muir Glen.  San Marzano tomatoes are usually sold “whole” so you will want to pour them into a bowl and crush them with your hands first.
  • Fire roasted diced tomatoes:  are tomatoes that have been roasted which gives them a complex sweet smokiness and are far less acidic than traditional tomatoes.  You can use plain diced tomatoes if you can’t locate fire roasted.
  • Chicken Bouillon infuses the sauce with intense flavor to make it taste like it’s been simmering all day.  You can use granulated bouillon, better than bouillon or bouillon cubes in equal amounts.  If using bouillon cubes, don’t dissolve them in water first, simply crush and add directly to the sauce.  
  • Vegetables: bell peppers are a favorite in this shrimp pasta recipe due to their sweetness and texture, but you can swap them for different veggies such as asparagus, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, spinach etc.
  • Heavy cream: you may substitute with evaporated milk, half and half or milk but the sauce won’t be as luxurious.

HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT

  • To store: shrimp pasta should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
  • To freeze: let the pasta cool to room temperature then transfer to a freezer safe container. Label and freeze for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw completely in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
  • To reheat in the microwave:  Add a splash of water or milk to your individual serving; no need to stir it in, yet.  Microwave for one minute, stir, then continue to heat at 30 second intervals until warmed through.
  • To reheat on the stove:  For larger portions, reheat gently on the stove until warmed through.  Add a splash of water or milk to thin the sauce because it will have thickened in the refrigerator. 

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4 Comments

  1. Ramya says

    will be making this soon can i use mushrooms / vegan butter / vegetable bouillon and coconut cream as am a vegan can i skip bell peppers as am not a big fan of it i love pasta sooooooooooooo much perfect for my after office meals will dm you if i make this and let you know how it goes Thanks Ramya

    • Jen says

      Thanks Ramya, I’m excited for you to try it!

  2. Megan says

    Hi Jen,

    We love your recipes. Would 1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes equal a 14 or 28 ounce can?

    • Jen says

      14 ounces 😉 Sorry I measured from a 28 ounce can – should have added the ounces!