It’s hard to think of a more satisfying and delicious meal than a plate of creamy shrimp pasta. Paired with a garden salad, a little garlic toast and a chilled glass of white wine — one bite and you’ll know that life just doesn’t get much better.
The problem is, it seems like it would be difficult to make a shrimp pasta from scratch. Not so! It’s amazingly easy to create this restaurant-quality dish right in your own kitchen with some simple ingredients and a few easy steps.
Don’t let the cream sauce intimidate you! Even a novice cook can whip up a luscious sauce from scratch that will turn a weeknight dinner into a special occasion. The good news with this shrimp pasta recipe is that the sauce is easy to make and doesn’t use heavy cream. Most pasta recipes with cream sauces achieve that rich deliciousness by using a ton of heavy cream, making the pasta dish’s saturated fat count skyrocket. This recipe uses cream cheese instead, cutting the fat while adding a unique and tangy flavor.
A single tablespoon of heavy cream has 3.5 grams of saturated fat. The same amount of cream cheese only has 2.8 grams of saturated fat. Some recipes for creamy pasta dishes call for up to two cups of heavy cream. Using cream cheese instead makes a significant difference in the fat content. If you want to reduce the fat even more, low-fat cream cheese only has 1.4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. Suddenly your decadent shrimp pasta dish has turned from being a guilty pleasure into being an almost guilt-free indulgence.
This particular recipe for shrimp and cream cheese pasta is all about flavor. The sweet brininess of the shrimp in the cream cheese sauce is set off by the smokiness of the Cajun-spiced tasso ham. Here are some helpful tips to consider before you shop for ingredients.
Shrimp size is measured by how many shrimp you get in a pound. That number is called “the count” and the higher the number, the smaller the shrimp will be. For this pasta dish, you’ll need mid-sized shrimp that would fall in the 41-50 count size range.
Fresh or Frozen
Of course, there is shrimp to be found in bags in the frozen food section of the grocery store. However, those fresh looking shrimp in the seafood case may have once been frozen as well. That’s not a bad thing. Flash-frozen shrimp that have thawed are delicious and will work well for your recipe. Granted, it’s not quite as good as buying live shrimp directly off the boat, but since that’s not often an option, pre-frozen grocery store shrimp is an excellent choice for the average home cook.
Raw or Cooked
For the juiciest and freshest flavor, buying raw shrimp is just about always preferable to buying pre-cooked shrimp. It’s also usually cheaper.
This recipe calls for linguine but it will work just as well with any flat, ribbon-like pasta such as pappardelle or fettuccine. Don’t have any of those types of pasta on hand? Just use some spaghetti and it will still be delicious.
What is Tasso Ham?
Tasso ham comes from the Cajun cooking tradition of Louisiana. It’s cured, smoked and spiced in a way that really brings and extra kick to this shrimp and cream cheese pasta dish. If you can’t find tasso ham in your grocery store, don’t worry. Any smoky ham or bacon will work nicely in its place.
The tasso provides a lot of the spice for this recipe but you’ll also need a little bit of Cajun seasoning. It doesn’t matter what brand you use, so don’t worry about that. Then there’s the lemon juice added right before serving that not only provides a nice shot of vitamin C but also brightens the dish and balances out its flavors.
Shrimp and Cream Cheese Pasta Recipe
Difficulty level: Easy
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Total cooking time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 pound of linguine pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 cup of tasso ham, diced – if tasso is unavailable, use bacon or smoked ham
- 1-1/2 pounds of peeled and deveined shrimp
- 1 pat of unsalted butter
- 1 cup green onions, sliced
- 1 cup sliced button mushrooms
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ cup reserved pasta water
- 1-2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
- 1 8-ounce brick of full-fat or low-fat cream cheese, softened
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Juice from one half of a lemon
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- Cook linguine in a large pot of lightly-salted, boiling water on medium-high heat until al dente.
- Drain, reserving ½ of a cup of pasta water.
- Return the linguine to the pot and drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over it and toss to prevent sticking. Set aside.
- Add the other tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the tasso and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add shrimp and cook until pink, which should be about 2 minutes per side. Alternatively, it can be also grilled for added flavor.
- When finished, transfer the shrimp and tasso to a plate.
- Add the butter to the empty skillet and turn the heat to medium-low.
- When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms.
- Sauté for a few minutes, allowing the mushrooms to release their liquid, about five minutes.
- Add the garlic and green onions and sauté for an additional three minutes.
- Turn the heat down to low and add the cream cheese to the skillet, stirring in order to break it up.
- After the cream cheese has completely melted, add the milk, parmesan cheese and Cajun seasoning. Stir. If the mixture is too thick, add some of the pasta water.
- Stir in the lemon juice.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning of the cream sauce.
- Return the shrimp and tasso to the skillet and stir.
- Pour the contents of the skillet over the top of the pasta and toss to coat.
- Sprinkle on the fresh parsley and serve immediately. Enjoy!