Shrimp scampi is a dish that’s quick-and-easy enough for a weeknight dinner made almost entirely out of pantry staples but also indulgent and special enough for meals shared with friends and family. This version, with spinach and crispy breadcrumbs, dials up the seafood flavor by marinating the shrimp and using the shells to make the sauce. It features silky strands of linguine coated in a rich shellfish butter-sauce with juicy marinated shrimp that’s tossed with spinach and topped with crispy breadcrumbs. The spinach turns the pasta into a one-dish meal, but additions like a fresh, crunchy salad and thick slices of a crusty Italian bread (like ciabatta) with garlic herb butter are always welcome and stretch out the meal to feed more people.
What is Special about this Shrimp Scampi Recipe?
There are countless recipes for shrimp scampi on the internet. But this one is a good one because of a few extra but still easy steps that boost the flavor, make thrifty use of what could be kitchen scraps and sneak in some greens:
Marinate the Shrimp
Throwing the shrimp in naked is a missed opportunity for adding flavor to the dish. After peeling, toss the shrimp in salt, pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes and drizzle with olive oil and set aside for 10-20 minutes. If you season the shrimp like this first and then prep the other ingredients while they marinate, you’re adding flavor without spending more time in the kitchen.
Use the Shrimp Shells to Make a Stock
I love this technique because, not only does it add flavor to the finished dish, it gets the most out of shrimp shells that might otherwise be discarded. You will have to strain or fish the shells out of the sauce, but the extra flavor is worth the extra step.
Make it with spinach
I love the idea of serving my plates full of carbs with a side-salad, but honestly, no matter how quick and easy the pasta itself, I rarely take the time to make a salad. Quick-and-easy is generally why I’m making pasta for dinner in the first place. Adding greens to the shrimp scampi - at the very end - is sort of like mixing a salad in with the pasta. Spinach is the perfect green to choose because of how quickly it cooks down.
Give me some Crunch
Of course, the primary appeal of shrimp scampi over pasta is the silky pasta itself, coated in copious amounts of that garlic and seafood flavored butter sauce. It’s all very smooth and creamy. But this is all the more reason to add textural contrast with a generous sprinkle of toasted fresh bread crumbs.
Notes on Ingredients and Substitutions
For me, linguine feels like the perfect pasta width for a good scampi-sauce-to-pasta ratio. But any long delicate pasta shape works nicely with thin, butter-based sauces: cappellini, fettucine, spaghetti or spaghettini. Another option is to leave the pasta out altogether and serve the shrimp and spinach, swimming in butter sauce, with a side of good-quality crusty bread.
I like to use a relatively good quality dry white wine for this dish. Use whatever white wine you have, as long as it’s something you would drink. The wine adds a lot of flavor, so I recommend not skipping it, but if you don’t have wine, or want to make it without alcohol, you can substitute the same amount of vegetable or chicken stock.
Make it Easier
I think this shrimp scampi with spinach is a fast and easy to put together weeknight dinner, but easy is a relative concept and if you’re crunched for time, there are lots of short-cuts that will make tonight’s dinner easier. Alternatively, turn some steps of the recipe into make-ahead components. These ideas may not technically be time-savers, right now, but they are ways to do future you a favor, saving you time later and balancing the trade-off between effort and flavor.
Shortcut: Don’t make shrimp stock with the shells. This is really worth doing and doesn’t add too much time to the dish, but if you want to skip this step, add ½ as much of the wine and water or stock, and no shrimp shells, to the sauce (in step 4 of the recipe) and simmer for only a few minutes before adding in the butter and oil (step 6).
Or, make-ahead: Save the shrimp shells for later. Store them in a freezer bag for 2-3 months and add to the bag any other shellfish shells (shrimp, lobster, crab) you accumulate during that time. This way, when you have time later, you can make a big batch of shellfish stock that can be stored in the freezer for up to three months, and will be ready on hand for future meals.
Shortcut: Use store-bought rather than homemade breadcrumbs. Or, leave them out and serve with crusty bread.
Or, make ahead: Seasoned breadcrumbs can be made ahead in large batches from any fresh or leftover/stale bread you might have lying around. If you make them yourself, you can get size variation in the crumb that creates a crunchy texture that store-bought crumbs can’t replicate. You can either:
- blitz the bread in a food processor, mix with seasonings, toast in the oven or on the stovetop, allow to dry out and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. Or,
- blitz the bread in a food processor, mix with seasonings, freeze and toast from frozen as needed.
How to Store and Reheat Shrimp Scampi
Shrimp scampi doesn’t make the greatest leftovers, but it can be kept in the refrigerator for a day or two without the pasta losing too much “structural integrity.” To reheat, transfer leftovers to an oven-safe dish, cover with aluminum foil and warm through in a 300C oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until warmed through.
If you know in advance that you will be eating some of the dish as leftovers, consider leaving the shrimp out of the pasta in the final step, adding it separately to each individual bowl when serving, and storing the leftover shrimp and pasta separately in the fridge, so that they can be warmed up separately the next day. This will help you avoid rubbery leftover shrimp (especially if you opt for reheating in the microwave rather than the oven).
Shrimp Scampi with Spinach and Crispy Breadcrumbs Recipe
Serves: 4 generously; 6 with a side salad or crusty bread
- 1 lb uncooked, shell-on shrimp
- red pepper flakes (optional)
- Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb linguine (could also use fettuccine)
- 1 cup pasta water (reserved from cooking the pasta)
- 4 tb unsalted butter, divided
- 4 tb olive oil, divided (plus more for drizzling)
- 2 shallots, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced and divided
- ½ cup dry white wine (could sub chicken stock)
- ½ cup water (or chicken stock)
- 1 ½ cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (or panko)
- 5 oz spinach, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
- Zest & Juice of 1 lemon
- Prepare the shrimp: Remove the shells from the shrimp and set them aside for the stock. You can remove the entire shell or leave the tail. It’s up to you. The dish will look better with the tails on, but everyone will have to pull the tails off as they eat. It’s a trade-off. Place the shrimp in a medium-sized bowl, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, ½ of the garlic and a small pinch of red pepper flakes (if using). Set aside (15-20 minutes).
- Cook the pasta: Fill a very large pot with water. Add salt until the water tastes salty. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until not-quite done, 6-8 minutes. Set aside 1 cup of the pasta water and drain. If not ready to use right away, rinse with cold water to prevent it from sticking to itself as it cools.
- Cook the shrimp: As the pasta cooks, melt 2 tb of butter and 2 tb of oil in a large skillet. Sauté the shallots till translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and another pinch of red pepper flakes (if using) and sauté for another minute. Add the shrimp and cook just until they turn pink, 2-3 minutes. Remove shrimp from the pan and set aside.
- Make the Sauce: Add the wine, water and reserved shrimp shells to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the shells for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, toast the bread crumbs: heat a small dry pan over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and stir regularly as you wait for the sauce to reduce. Keep an eye on them and remove the pan from heat when the crumbs are golden-brown. Set aside.
- Finish the dish: remove the shells from the pan and discard, shaking off as much of the garlic and shallot bits as you can. Add remaining 2 tb of butter, 2 tb of oil to the pan. When the butter melts, add the spinach and toss for 1-2 minutes till it wilts, then add the cooked pasta and ½ cup reserved pasta water to the pan, toss pasta until cooked through and the sauce begins to cling to the pasta. Add the cooked shrimp, parsley, and lemon juice to the pan. Toss to combine. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. If the pasta has absorbed too much of the sauce, toss in more of the pasta water. Serve in bowls topped generously with the bread crumbs, lemon zest, additional parsley and, if desired, a drizzle of olive oil.