In theory, garlic shrimp pasta has all the makings of an ideal weeknight meal. Toss a few quick-cooking ingredients — shrimp, garlic, oil, wine — with boiled dried pasta, and only the salad’s left holding up dinner.
But there are challenges. Delicate shrimp overcooks in a matter of seconds. Volatile garlic can easily become overbearing or bitter (or simply disappear). Add to that the feat of getting a brothy sauce to coat the pasta, and this simple recipe turns into a precarious balancing act. But we still wanted it all: al dente pasta and moist shrimp bound by a supple sauce infused with a deep garlic flavor.
Garlic Shrimp Pasta
Start to finish: 45 minutes
Chef’s Note: Marinate the shrimp while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Use the smaller amount of red pepper flakes for a milder sauce.
1 pound large shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), peeled, deveined, and each shrimp cut into 3 pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
9 garlic cloves, peeled (5 cloves minced and 4 cloves smashed)
Salt and pepper
1 pound penne, ziti, or other short, tubular pasta
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
3/4 cup bottled clam juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
Combine shrimp, 1 tablespoon oil, one-third of minced garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Heat smashed garlic and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, until garlic turns golden but not brown, 4 to 7 minutes. Off heat, remove garlic with slotted spoon and discard. Set skillet with oil aside.
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot.
While pasta cooks, return skillet to medium heat. Add shrimp along with marinade, spread into even layer, and cook, without stirring, until oil starts to bubble gently, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir shrimp and continue to cook until almost cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Remove shrimp with slotted spoon and transfer to clean bowl. Add remaining minced garlic and pepper flakes to skillet and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in vermouth and cook for 1 minute. Stir in clam juice and parsley and cook until mixture starts to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, whisk in butter until melted, then stir in lemon juice.
Add shrimp and sauce to pasta and toss to combine. Add reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency. Season with pepper to taste. Serve immediately, passing lemon wedges separately.
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