Don’t throw out those shrimp shells. Use them to make this perfect pasta

Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer — not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we’re guessing you have those covered. Inspired by the column, the Big Little Recipes cookbook is available now.

Between you and me, when I started this column just over four years ago, I was worried I would run out of ideas. How many dishes could we possibly make with five or fewer ingredients?

But it turned out: hundreds. We made the garlickiest, butteriest pasta. We made marinated chicken that wouldn’t dare dry out. We made peanut butter cookies without any measuring cups or spoons.

And this week, we’re making spicy, tomatoey shrimp spaghetti, which will be my last Big Little Recipe (but don’t worry — we’re bringing back some of our greatest hits right after this). Fittingly, it includes a handful of the tips and tricks I’ve learned to love, so before I get all mushy, let’s break it down:

It uses shrimp two ways. Because why pay more to get less? First, make sure your shrimp still have the shells and tails on them when you buy them, and then peel them at home. Takes a few minutes, sure, but turn on a podcast. Toss the shells in a pot, add water, and let that simmer into a briny, savory stock. This is where the pasta will cook, then that liquid gold will bolster our sauce.

It lets your kitchen lead the way. Only you can tell me what’s in your pantry. I like long noodles here, like spaghetti or bucatini, but if all you have is rigatoni, great. When it comes to chile paste, I tried — and adored — crushed Calabrian, gochujang, and harissa in my tests. What’s in your fridge door?

It skips a lot of ingredients that you might be tempted to add. But don’t. Don’t add Parmesan or lemon or garlic or onion or whatever it is you’re about to suggest. Instead, lean on the chile paste for breadth (the harissa in my fridge, from NY Shuk, has preserved lemon, garlic, and warm spices).

It doesn’t need a side dish. Jammy tomatoes plus a windowsill’s worth of basil offer all the vegetal elements I crave, especially on a weeknight. Which means you can plop this on the table and call it a day. It doesn’t need plates either. I like to eat this straight out of the skillet, hunched over the table.

I hope you’ll keep making Big Little Recipes, both the ones from the column and the ones from the cookbook. But also the ones we don’t think of as “recipes,” even though we look forward to them every day.

The warm English muffin, smeared with salted butter, that you rush-thawed in the microwave, half-burnt in the toaster, then ate in 3 minutes, standing over the kitchen sink, watching the coffee drip, drip, drip.

This? This old thing? It’s been right in front of us the whole time.

Recipe: Shrimp Pasta with Tomatoes, Basil, and Chile Butter


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar