I had 4 weeks of vacation time saved up at one of my first jobs after college. I was told I had to take it. So, I did, all at once. I traveled to Greece and Italy. I was enamored with the art, architecture, and food.
Florence was both my art and my food mecca while there. The central farmer’s market had amazingly colorful produce, meats from pastured animals, and fresh fish brought in from both the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian Seas.
I had taken a train from Brindisi overnight and was exhausted when I arrived in Florence. I stopped for an espresso and a fresh fruit-filled pastry and then checked into my pension, a lovely rooftop apartment that overlooked the Duomo with a host family.
That evening, I went in search of a neighborhood trattoria for pasta and seafood. The place that caught my eye had a cold antipasti display table that looked delicious but a little more for tourists. I wanted a meal with authentic family dishes. So, I headed toward the back where there were tables with bottles of homemade wine and locals sitting at them (I had taken Italian in College, so wasn’t too worried). They served mostly handmade pasta with seafood, beef, or vegetables. Pasta with shrimp was affordable and I knew it would satisfy me. It did.
Pasta con gamberoni or spaghetti with prawns is a super simple and delicious Italian dish. The pasta is silken, if it is fresh, and dressed with giant shrimp, tomatoes, garlic, white wine, pepperoncino, fresh herbs, and lemon juice. No cheese! To my surprise, it was served with the owner’s homemade dry red wine. I actually understood this unusual pairing once I tasted it all together and the sulfite-free wine did not give me a headache the next morning.
I had to look up gamberoni because shrimp in Italian goes by different spellings, depending on the size. Gamberetti are small shrimp. Gamberi are medium size. And, gamberoni are large shrimp, also known as prawns. You definitely want jumbo shrimp or prawns for this recipe. Fresh is great, but frozen will do. They need to be raw, not precooked. So, let’s get directly to the recipe.
- 12 oz. spaghetti
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil divided
- 4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper flakes
- 3 cups cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 lb. jumbo shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1 ½ cups dry white wine
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley divided
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- All ingredients ready? Let's begin!
- Place a large pot of generously salted water over high heat. Allow this to come to a boil while you start the sauce with shrimp.
- In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the pepper flakes and continue to cook for another 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until they have softened, approximately 5 minutes.
- Add the wine to the skillet and allow it to reduce by about half. This should take about another 5 minutes.
- As soon as you add the wine, drop the spaghetti into the boiling water. Lower the heat to a rolling simmer. Cook the pasta until just al-dente, approximately 7 minutes.
- Add the shrimp to the sauce and cook until just starting to turn pink, turning over once, approximately 2 minutes.
- While the shrimp is cooking, scoop out 1/4 cup of the pasta water and reserve to add to the sauce later. Drain the pasta in a colander.
- Add the spaghetti and reserved cooking water to the sauce. Stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, 1 tablespoon of parsley, and lemon juice.
- Toss gently to combine and cook until the sauce thickens and coats the pasta, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
- Serve the spaghetti and shrimp in individual bowls making sure each bowl has an equal amount of shrimp.
- Garnish each bowl with the remaining tablespoon of parsley.
Notes & Tips
- While cooking the shrimp, keep a close eye on it. If it cooks too quickly and appears to be completely opaque, remove the shrimp to a bowl before you add the spaghetti, water, oil, parsley, and lemon juice to the pan. Add the shrimp back into the pan about a minute before serving. Overcooked shrimp can be rubbery. Alternatively, you can cook the shrimp in a little oil before starting the sauce for about 3 minutes and reserve it to place on top of each serving.
- A nice way to serve spaghetti is to grab it with tongs and drop it into the bowl of a ladle. Use the tongs to twist the pasta into a ball inside the ladle. Then, place this neat package in a serving bowl.
Jumbo shrimp is not always available. You can use medium-large shrimp. Just be sure to cook them for a little less time. I have seen a version of this recipe made with crayfish. You could also use langoustine tail meat which has a bit of a lobster flavor. These are generally frozen. If using frozen shellfish, defrost it overnight in the refrigerator.
I like the parsley in this recipe. However, I have a family member who thinks parsley is just decoration. It is actually a very healthy herb and great for digestion. If you would prefer a little more herb flavor, I would recommend using fresh basil leaves in place of the parsley.
Spaghetti is a classic pairing with shrimp in Italy. You could definitely use linguini if that is what you have in your pantry. To make this dish gluten-free, try brown rice spaghetti. This is a sturdy pasta similar to wheat pasta.