I’m so excited to share this recipe! I’m a sucker for pasta and red sauce, and this Shrimp Pasta with Spicy Saffron Tomato Sauce is my current favorite.
I actually learned how to make this fresh tomato sauce at my previous job with the Italian chef. It was one of those recipes I always knew I wanted to put my own spin on and share. I kept the staple ingredients the same which were fresh tomatoes, spring onions and dried hot peppers. The saffron and shrimp were my own additions to this pasta dish, but work really well with the other components. The quality of the ingredients is of upmost importance when there are so few of them. I really like using these some cocktail or compari tomatoes for this dish, because they’re sweet and have a pretty good flesh to juice ratio. Fleshier tomatoes tend to be the best when it comes to fresh sauces, especially if you decided to discard all of the juice and seeds and only use the meaty part of the tomato. In this recipe, I decided to skip that step. Roma tomatoes are also known to be great for fresh sauces and I encourage you to use them if you find super red ripe romas. They are just not the easiest to find around me. Second is the onions. I like using spring onions, because they’re more mild than most larger onions. I wish I had a photo of them, but if you’ve never seen a spring onion, it essentially looks like a small white onion attached to some thick scallion greens. If you can’t find these, don’t fret. Go for a sweet white onion, and you’ll be just fine.
Now about the spices, I like to use good quality tiny dried red chilies to spice things up a bunch. When crushed, they look just like your standard crushed red pepper flakes, which would be a totally acceptable substitution. Then there’s the saffron. The sort of floral acidic notes you get from saffron threads accent the tomatoes and shrimp really well, but feel completely free to leave this ingredient out. If you do spring for the saffron, it’s great for paella, risotto milanese and many seafood dishes. The pasta is the last important part of the dish. I couldn’t find the exact pasta that my old boss used to use, but I did find spaghetti alla chitarra, which comes pretty close. It can be found at some specialty stores and really has an amazing texture. The name translates to spaghetti of the guitar. It’s made by using a device composed of many guitar-like strings. You simply lay the pasta over the strings and use a rolling pin push the pasta through the holes to cut out strands. It’s pretty cool. I realize this pasta is not very easy to find, so just go for regular spaghetti for your shrimp pasta if that’s what you can get.
I really love how this dish comes together. The sauce is spicy and sweet, the shrimp are succulent and the pasta is irresistibly slurpable. It may seem unusual, but this sauce is finished off with butter to tone down any acidic notes and provide a little richness. And surprise surprise, I garnish with some basil. How could I not? Anyway, I hope this inspires you to make a delicious sauce with some fresh, summertime tomatoes, because that’s what this is all about. Or if this inspires you to make a shrimp pasta with canned tomatoes, I’ll take that too.
- 8oz spaghetti alla chitarra or regular spaghetti
- 8oz shrimp, cleaned, bottom shell intact
- ¼ cup plus 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 8oz spring onions (2 large, 4-5 small) or 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
- 30 cocktail tomatoes or 2 ¼ lbs of other ripe tomatoes
- ¼ – ½ tsp crushed hot red pepper flakes (I actually used two very small whole dried peppers which I crushed)
- 1 large pinch saffron threads
- 1 tbsp butter
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
- Basil leaves, for garnish
- Cook onions: Heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add ¼ cup of oil and onions. Season with salt and hot pepper flakes. Cook slowly, reducing heat to medium-low when needed to prevent browning. Cook a total of about 25-30 minutes or until softened and very sweet.
- Blanch and peel tomatoes: While onions cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using a paring knife score tomatoes by cutting a small ‘x’ through the skin on the bottom of the tomatoes. This will make them easier to peel. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. Add tomatoes to boiling water in batches for about 15-30 seconds. Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer to ice water bath. When cooled, drain tomatoes and pat dry. Peel and discard skin. Chop in ½ inch pieces. Keep water in pot warm to later use for pasta.
- Cook tomatoes: Add tomatoes, saffron, salt and 2 tablespoons of oil to cooked onions. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 1 – 1 ½ hours or until sauce is flavorful and thickened.
- Cook pasta and shrimp: Bring water back to a boil for the pasta. Season very generously with salt and cook pasta until al dente. Drain. While pasta cooks, heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add remaining tablespoon of oil followed by the shrimp. Cook a total of about 3 minutes or until mostly cooked through, flipping half way through. Remove from pan and lower heat to medium. Add cooked pasta to pan with enough tomato sauce to coat. Add butter and toss until melted and emulsified. Stir in shrimp. Transfer to serving bowls and top with a spoonful of additional salt, a drizzle of olive oil and basil. Enjoy.