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Shrimp Arugula Pasta is a hearty, main dish pasta full of the glorious flavors of garlic, lemon and white wine, with some nutritious, dark-leafy greens thrown in for good measure. It is classic and beloved by many. A perfect example of “less is more”, this recipe does not disappoint despite its short list of ingredients. It’s easy to pull-together for a quick weeknight meal, but is also special enough for Sunday or any holiday dinner.
Scampi Origins . . .
Shrimp Scampi is like your favorite, little black dress, meaning, it never goes out of style. It’s a signature Italian-American recipe with its origin coming from Italian immigrants that adapted classic techniques from the homeland to American ingredients back in the day.
In the Italian language, “scampi” actually refers to langoustines, a crustacean in the lobster family. “Scampi” (i.e., langoustines) were traditionally prepared in various ways, most notably with olive oil, garlic, and white wine in Italy. In Italian America, the langoustines were switched out for shrimp, but the word “scampi” remained in the name of the dish, resulting in what we now call “shrimp scampi”.
All About the Garlic, Lemon, White Wine and Butter . . .
Today in the U.S., “shrimp scampi” almost always refers to shrimp cooked in a garlic, lemon, white wine and butter sauce, with or without pasta.
This Shrimp Scampi Pasta with Arugula recipe takes those signature flavors and pairs it with spaghetti and peppery arugula, along with some extra-virgin olive oil for added richness, complexity and depth. It’s an intensely flavored dish that is a bit addictive. And, in my opinion, this savory recipe is perfect for any season of the year. I like to include it on my Christmas Eve menu as part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes celebration, along with meat-free menus on Fridays in Lent and Good Friday, in particular.
But, let’s face it, this pasta is perfect anytime, as there is not more cozy and comforting than a big bowl of pasta with seared shrimp, lots of garlic, lemon, white wine and butter!
Ingredients for Shrimp Arugula Pasta
To make this Shrimp Scampi Pasta with Arugula, we will be using the following ingredients:
- Shrimp: A medium-sized shrimp, such as a “31 to 36”, which means there are approximately 31 to 36 shrimp in one pound, works perfectly in this recipe. The shrimp must be 100% cleaned (i.e., deveined and peeled) with the tail removed.
- Pasta: I used spaghetti here, but this recipe works really well with many types of long pasta shapes, such as linguine, spaghettone, bucatini and spaghetti alla chitarra.
- Garlic: As garlic is one of the three defining flavors in this recipe, no explanation is necessary! Other than to say, a thick-sliced garlic works really well visually and texturally in this dish. However you can prepare the garlic any way that you choose, be it chopped, minced or thinly sliced. And, feel free to add more or use less based on your personal preference.
- Lemon: We use generous amounts of both freshly-squeezed lemon juice and lemon zest in this recipe to give its defining flavor. The acidity of the lemon juice balances the richness from the butter, olive oil and shrimp. If you have some lemon oil on hand, you can also drizzle a light amount over the finished, plated pasta for even more citrusy brightness.
- White Wine: Along with the fresh lemon juice, the acidity of the wine helps balance the richness and lighten the sauce in this dish. And, along with the garlic and lemon, the white wine is one of the most significant flavors in almost any scampi recipe. Be sure to use a dry (i.e., not sweet) white wine and always select a wine that you would actually like to drink. The flavor of the wine comes through strongly in the final dish, so you want it to taste great!
- Arugula: While not traditional, I really love how the natural pepperiness of the arugula complements the other flavors in the dish. Plus, adding a dark, leafy green makes the pasta more nutritious. And, arugula doesn’t require significant cooking time in order to break down its fibers and wilts just the right amount when mixed with the hot pasta. Either regular or baby arugula can be used. (If you prefer to leave the greens out, the dish will still be incredibly delicious.)
- Butter and Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Scampi is traditionally made only with butter, but I really enjoy the rich combination of the butter with the extra-virgin olive oil in this dish. Start with unsalted butter, if possible, as it is always best to control the salt level yourself. We use butter and olive oil at the beginning of this recipe to sear the shrimp and sauté the garlic. And, we also use it to finish the pasta as one of the last steps in the recipe.
A complete and detailed list of ingredients with amounts and instructions is included in the recipe below.
Check out my answer to “How Much Salt Should You Add to Pasta Water?” here, as featured in Appetito’s online Italian Food and Drink Magazine. (Hint: I also mention it in the recipe below.)
Shrimp Arugula Pasta Step-By-Step, Pro-Tips included!
Here are the main steps for how to make this Shrimp Scampi Pasta with Arugula:
- Prep and measure all ingredients. Be sure to zest the lemon prior to juicing them.
- PRO-TIP: If starting with frozen shrimp, be sure to fully defrost them in the refrigerator before using. Do not defrost them in cold water as they will get water-logged. Also, pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel before seasoning them with salt and black pepper.
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then sear both sides of the shrimp until pink and cooked through.
- PRO-TIP: Place the shrimp in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Work in batches, if necessary, and do not overcrowd the pan.
- Sauté garlic until it is soft and lightly brown, taking care not to burn it. Then, add the white wine, lemon juice and lemon zest to the pan and bring it to a simmer. Simmer until the wine has reduced by about 25% and the alcohol taste has cooked off.
- Meanwhile, get the pasta water ready. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 2 minutes less than the package directions, or about 2 minutes before you think it is al dente. Be sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.
- PRO-TIP: Don’t skimp on the water! Use a large pot with 5 to 6 quarts water for 1 pound of pasta. And, bring the water to a boil before adding the salt. The water will boil a little more strongly for a second when you do so, and this will ensure that the salt is dissolved immediately. If you add the salt to the pot when the water is cold, it may just deposit on the bottom of the pot. Use 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp salt.
- Transfer the cooked pasta and some pasta water to the pan with the garlic sauce, along with the remaining butter and olive oil, and toss well, allowing the pasta to finish cooking in the delicious flavors of the sauce. Add additional pasta water if you need more moisture. Return the shrimp to the pan, just to heat through, then fold in the arugula and gently mix. Season to taste. If desired, squeeze additional lemon juice over the finished pasta. That’s it!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about this lemon shrimp pasta:
Yes. If you are using already cooked shrimp in this recipe, skip the first step of cooking the shrimp in the butter and olive oil. Just add the shrimp to the pan along with the pasta at the end. Since the shrimp are already cooked, you simply need to reheat them. If you “cook” already cooked shrimp for too long, they will get tough and rubbery.
Deveining shrimp means removing the digestive tract/intestine of the shrimp. It’s the brownish/black vein that runs along the back of the shrimp. While it won’t hurt to eat it, it’s a bit unpleasant to think about.
In the Italian language, “scampi” actually refers to langoustines, a crustacean in the lobster family. “Scampi” (i.e., langoustines) were traditionally prepared in Italy in various ways, most notably with olive oil, garlic, and white wine. In Italian America, the langoustines were switched out for shrimp, but the word “scampi” remained in the name of the dish, resulting in what we now call “shrimp scampi”. And, today in the U.S., “shrimp scampi” almost always refers to shrimp cooked in a garlic, lemon, white wine and butter sauce, with or without pasta. Click here for a bit more on the topic if you’re interest.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat them, covered, in a small skillet over medium low heat with a little bit of water until heated through.
Recipe Variations for Shrimp Arugula Pasta
Here are a few ideas to change up this pasta dish:
- Change the Protein: Lemon, garlic and wine are very versatile flavors and pair with multiple types of seafood. This recipe would work really well with scallops, mussels, clams and even chicken!
- Make it Whole Grain or Gluten-Free: Just switch out the traditional pasta for a whole wheat or gluten-free pasta.
- Add Some Heat! Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or Calabrian chili paste when sautéing the garlic. And, drizzle the final dish with some homemade chili oil!
- Try a Different Green: Baby spinach would be a great alternative if you prefer a milder-flavored green.
- Add Crunch: Top off the pasta with some toasted breadcrumbs for additional texture and crunch.
- Ditch the Carbs! Prepare this dish in the spirit of my Spicy Garlic Shrimp dish and omit the pasta. You will have a truly, sop-worthy sauce worth of the best pane di casa available!
What to Serve with Shrimp Arugula Pasta
Shrimp Scampi Pasta with Arugula is a hearty, main course pasta, complete with lots of protein and even some dark, leafy greens.
I suggest a light antipasti of prosciutto di parma with melon or assorted salumi. Then, follow the meal with a light green salad with red wine vinaigrette. Dessert should be light – perhaps biscotti and coffee, mixed fruit, or lemon sorbet.
Or, try serving this recipe with Neapolitan Zucchini A Scapece with Vinegar and Mint or Roasted Eggplant with Crispy Garlic and Herbs–both are delicious pairings!
More Pastas with Seafood
If you love pairing seafood and fish with pasta, here are a few more recipes to try out:
- Linguine with Red Clam Sauce–briny and delicious!
- Tuna Ragu with Bucatini–a classic, savory combination of tuna in a rich tomato sauce
- Fettuccine with Anchovies and Bottarga–super-savory and simple!
- Calamari Pasta Fra Diavolo–tender, slow-cooked calamari in a piccante tomato sugo
- Spaghetti in a Lump Crabmeat Sauce–an impressive, quick and easy sauce with loads of flavor
Kitchen Tools & Cookware for Shrimp Arugula Pasta
To make this arugula shrimp pasta, you will need the following:
- Cutting board with non-slip mat underneath (I use shelf liner)
- Sharp chef’s knife
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Multiple bowls to hold prep
- Citrus juicer
- Shrimp deveiner
- Pepper mill
- Large pot for cooking pasta
- Colander, large mesh strainer or spider for scooping out or draining pasta
- Wooden or silicon spoons, tongs
- Sauté pan or skillet
- Dutch oven
- Large serving bowl or platter and serving utensils
More Great Recipes to Try
I hope that you are enjoying my Italian food blog and all of my Italian recipes!
If you’ve tried this or any other recipe here, please let me know how it went in the comments below. I love hearing from you!
Shrimp Arugula Pasta, Scampi-Style
- 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail off
- Pinch salt and black pepper
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup thickly-sliced garlic
- 1 cup dry white wine such as pinot grigio
- Fresh lemon juice from 2 lemons (about ½ cup)
- Zest from 2 lemons (Zest the lemons before juicing them!)
- 1 pound spaghetti + salt for pasta water
- 5 ounces arugula or baby arugula
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Prep all ingredients according to specifications above.
- Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel, then season both sides of the shrimp with salt and black pepper.1 1/2 pounds shrimp,, Pinch salt and black pepper
- Heat half the butter and olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, place the shrimp in a single layer in the hot pan and sear both sides of the shrimp until pink and cooked through (about 2 minutes per side). Work in batches, if necessary, and do not overcrowd the pan. Transfer the shrimp to a plate.6 Tbsp unsalted butter,, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil,
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic to the pan, and sauté it until it is soft and lightly brown, taking care not to burn it. As the garlic is thick sliced, it will take a few minutes for it to soften.1/2 cup thickly-sliced garlic
- Once the garlic is soft, add the white wine, lemon juice and lemon zest to the pan and bring it to a simmer. Simmer until the wine has reduced by about 25% and the alcohol taste has cooked off.1 cup dry white wine, Fresh lemon juice from 2 lemons, Zest from 2 lemons
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil, add salt, then the pasta, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package directions, or about 2 minutes before you think it is al dente. Be sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the starchy pasta water.1 pound spaghetti
- Transfer the cooked pasta and about ½ cup pasta water to the pan, along with the remaining butter and olive oil, and toss well, allowing the pasta to finish cooking in the delicious flavors of the sauce. Add additional pasta water if more moisture is needed.
- Return the shrimp to the pan, just to heat through, then fold in the arugula and gently mix until all ingredients are well-combined. Season to taste with salt and freshly-ground black pepper.5 ounces arugula or baby arugula, Freshly ground black pepper
- If desired, squeeze additional lemon juice over the finished pasta. Serve immediately. Buon Appetito!
- If starting with frozen shrimp, be sure to fully defrost them in the refrigerator before using. Do not defrost them in cold water as they will get water-logged.
- Use a large pot with 5 to 6 quarts water for 1 pound of pasta. Bring the water to a boil before adding the salt. Use 1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp salt.
- The amount of garlic (1/2 cup) may seem like a lot, but as it is thick-sliced, it is not as much as you think. But, feel free to adjust the amount to your personal preference.
- The pasta water is key! Add it to the sauce along with the pasta for the additional moisture needed to finish cooking the pasta.
- If desired, drizzle the finished dish with some high quality extra-virgin olive oil or lemon oil for an additional hit of flavor and richness.