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Cajun Shrimp Pasta melds the bold flavors of the American South with the comforting appeal of Italian pasta in a dish that’s both easy to make and a pleasure to eat. In just 20 minutes, you can bring this edible fusion of cultures to your dinner table, making it a perfect choice for a quick weeknight meal or special weekend treat.
The heart of this dish lies in the straightforward but vibrant combination of ingredients. Succulent shrimp, seasoned with ample Cajun spices, pair beautifully with tender penne pasta all bathed in a creamy sauce of fire-roasted tomatoes, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese. It’s a satisfying meal that adds a touch of Southern warmth to any occasion.
Table of Contents
Ingredients You Need to Make Cajun Shrimp Pasta
- Shrimp: Look for fresh, medium-sized shrimp. They should have a firm texture and a mild, ocean-like smell.
- Cajun Seasoning: Choose a Cajun seasoning blend that suits your taste preference for saltiness. Brands vary widely in their salt content. If you prefer more control over the salt level, consider starting with a salt-free seasoning and adjust the salt to taste. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take it out once it’s in.
- Penne Pasta: Opt for pasta with a rough texture as it holds the sauce better. If you’re not using penne, any short pasta like rigatoni or farfalle works well.
- Butter: Both salted and unsalted butter work for this recipe, though unsalted butter offers more control over the dish’s overall saltiness. If using salted butter, you may want to adjust the other seasonings to match your desired flavor balance.
- Olive Oil: A good quality extra-virgin olive oil adds a subtle fruity flavor.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic cloves are best. They should be plump, firm, and without any green sprouts or signs of mold. Avoid shriveled or soft cloves.
- Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes: Look for cans where the tomatoes are the main focus, with minimal added ingredients. The tomatoes should be well-charred for a deep, smoky flavor.
- Heavy Cream: Fresh heavy cream should have a smooth texture and a sweet, clean taste.
- Parmesan Cheese: Freshly grated Parmesan cheese offers the best flavor and texture. Avoid pre-grated cheese, as it often contains anti-caking agents and doesn’t melt as well.
- Fresh Parsley: Choose bright green, fresh-looking flat leaf parsley without any wilted or yellow leaves. It should smell fresh and slightly peppery.
Mistakes to Avoid
- Overcooking the Shrimp: Shrimp cook quickly and can easily become tough and rubbery if overcooked. Remove them from heat as soon as they turn pink and are slightly firm to the touch.
- Ignoring Pasta Texture: It’s crucial to cook the pasta only until al dente. Overcooking pasta makes it mushy, and it will lose its texture when mixed with the sauce.
- Uneven Seasoning: Failing to evenly coat the shrimp with Cajun seasoning can lead to inconsistent flavors in your dish. Make sure each shrimp is well-seasoned.
- Burning the Garlic: Garlic burns quickly and can turn bitter. Cook it just until fragrant, which usually takes about 30 seconds, before adding the next ingredients.
- Neglecting Sauce Thickness: Be careful with the addition of reserved pasta water to the sauce. Adding too much can make the sauce overly thin, detracting from the rich, creamy texture.
- Not Tasting as You Go: Not tasting your dish as you cook can result in under or over-seasoning. Regularly taste and adjust the seasoning, especially the Cajun spice, to match your flavor preferences.
- If Cajun seasoning isn’t available, make your own blend with paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.
- Add vegetables like bell peppers or spinach to the dish for extra color and nutrition. Sauté them with the garlic before adding the tomatoes.
- Give the dish an extra kick by including a pinch of red pepper flakes or a splash of hot sauce in the sauce.
How to Store and Reheat
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. For reheating, gently warm the pasta over low heat in a saucepan, adding a splash of water or broth to loosen the sauce if necessary. Stir occasionally to ensure even heating and prevent sticking, until the pasta is thoroughly warmed through. Avoid using high heat as it can cause the shrimp to become tough and the sauce to separate.
More Must-Try Cajun Recipes
- Cajun Potatoes
- Cajun Shrimp
- Chicken and Sausage Pasta
- Cajun Shrimp and Sausage Pasta
- Remoulade Sauce
- Corn Maque Choux
- Cajun Potato Salad
How to Make Cajun Shrimp Pasta
Toss shrimp with Cajun seasoning in a medium bowl and set aside. Start boiling a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta to al dente, draining it while saving a cup of the pasta water.
In a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat, then sauté garlic until fragrant. Add the seasoned shrimp to the skillet, cooking just until done, then transfer them to a plate.
In the same skillet, cook fire-roasted diced tomatoes with their liquid until the liquid is halved, then lower the heat and blend in heavy cream and Parmesan cheese until the sauce thickens. Combine the cooked pasta and shrimp back into the skillet, adjusting the sauce consistency with reserved pasta water if needed. Season to taste, serve garnished with parsley, and enjoy.
Cajun Shrimp Pasta
- 1 pound medium shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning or more to taste (recipe note #1)
- 8 ounces penne pasta or other short pasta
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 large garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 14 1/2-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes with liquid
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 ounces grated parmesan cheese about 2/3 cup
- chopped fresh parsley for garnish, optional
- In a medium bowl combine shrimp and Cajun seasoning; toss to coat. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water according to package directions until firm to the bite (al dente). Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.
- While the pasta cooks, heat butter and olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add garlic; cook and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add shrimp; cook and stir until shrimp is just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and transfer shrimp to a clean plate.
- Add tomatoes with liquid to same skillet and bring to boil; cook and stir until liquid is reduced by half, 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in heavy cream and parmesan cheese; bring to simmer. Cook and stir until cheese melts and sauce has thickened, about 3 minutes.
- Add drained, cooked pasta and shrimp to skillet; cook and stir until well combined, heated through and sauce has thickened to your desired consistency. Or, if you prefer a thinner sauce, add reserved pasta water a little at a time as desired. Taste for seasoning and add more Cajun seasoning if needed. Transfer to serving platter or individual pasta bowls and garnish with parsley (if using); serve.
- The amount of salt in Cajun seasoning varies a lot by brand, so start out with a tablespoon (or less if the brand you have is particularly salty) and add more taste. If you’re using a salt-free seasoning (my preference), add 2 1/2 teaspoons of seasoning and 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon of fine sea salt. This way, you can add more of each to taste.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.