Default Pasta: Two Tomato Pasta with Spicy Shrimp

It’s been a bit hectic around my house lately. So here I go again with the Default Pasta. I call it Two-Tomato Pasta.

Default Pasta makes an appearance at my dinner table at least once a week. That’s because there is not always time to plan and shop for a specific menu. So Default Pasta is about winging it with what you have on hand.

Tonight I did not have much on hand, so I decided to keep this Default Pasta very basic. There is nothing quite as basic as spaghetti with tomatoes and basil. That’s exactly where this Default Pasta got its start. But because this is Default Pasta and not “bored out of my mind pasta”, I do have a few twists and turns that keep it from becoming too expected and well-worn.

Starting with the name: Two-Tomato Pasta with Spicy Shrimp.

I call it Two-Tomato Pasta for a couple of reasons. The most obvious reason is that the sauce has two kinds of tomatoes- Canned & Cooked, and Fresh & Raw. But tomatoes aren’t the only duo in this Default Pasta. Because my inspiration for this dish (even the photos) came from not one but two Martha Stewart recipes. That’s right I combined two recipes into one pasta. Not that I really followed a recipe, but that’s the beauty in Default Pasta…

spicy shrimpStill, Default Pasta is not quite as free-form as you might think. There are 6 very specific rules (made up by me!). Though I have posted on this subject before, I’ll go ahead and summarize a bit about what Default Pasta is, and of course what it isn’t.

Rule 1: Default Pasta uses dried pasta. Fresh pastas are lovely, but they show a level of pre-planning and preparedness that belie the true intention of Default Pasta. Besides, I just prefer dried pasta, and these are my rules. Tonight’s pasta is dried spaghetti.

Rule 2: Always include something slightly rich. It can be meat or cheese or even stunningly good olive oil. But with out something rich, it’s just homemade Chef Boyardee! The richness of this dish comes from both the shrimp and a good drizzle of really good extra-virgin olive oil.

Rule 3: Whenever you have something luscious (in this case shrimp) balance it with something bold or bitter (in this case Asian Chili sauce). That’s not even a Default Pasta rule, that’s just a life rule, metaphorically speaking of course.

shrimp spaghetti with tomatoes and basilRule 4: It’s not Default Pasta without garlic. It may be pasta, but it’s not default pasta. Learn the fine distinctions.

Rule 5: Vegetables are not mandatory, nor is meat. But if you are going vegetarian, choose something pretty. Color is your friend. Embrace it. Dead animals enliven most any pasta, but vegetarian kinds of pasta require an artistic eye. The red tomatoes, pink shrimp, and green basil make this pasta quite technicolor!

Rule 6: Please include something unexpected or slightly devious. In this case, the unexpected quality comes from a bright explosion of acidity that literally squirts into your mouth when you bite into one of the raw cherry tomatoes!


Two-Tomato Pasta with Spicy Shrimp serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
  • 3 clv garlic, thinly sliced and divided
  • 1 1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 T Asian chili sauce (or similar hot sauce)
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 pt cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 lb spaghetti
  • 1 bn lightly packed fresh basil leaves, 1/2 of them chopped half left whole
  • very good extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

shrimp pastaSeason shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. The pan is hot enough when the oil has a slight shimmer.

Add the shallots and half of the garlic, and cook quickly stirring often, until softened and just beginning to brown. About 1 minute.

Add the shrimp, chili sauce, and sugar to the pan and cook stirring constantly until the shrimp have just turned pink and opaque about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.

To the same skillet, add remaining oil and remaining garlic; cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add canned tomatoes and their juice, along with 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have softened and are saucy, about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat; stir in cherry tomatoes, and the chopped basil.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain; return pasta to pot. Add tomato and basil sauce, shrimp; season with salt and pepper, and toss. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter, garnish with whole basil leaves, and a good drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.


Greg Henry