I don't have a fatty burger or greasy fries every day but whenever I decide to go on a "diet," I find myself craving those foods all the time. In order for me to stay on the healthy route yet still stay sane, I try methods that make unhealthier foods lighter. For instance, today's meal is a cream-less creamy penne with cajun shrimp... sound confusing? Imagine enjoying a bowl of penne that has a nutty, toasted flavor and is creamy without any cream. Yes, it is possible! This idea was inspired by my favorite publication, Cooking Light (they are wizards over there!). The secret? Cooking the pasta as if you would cook risotto, by gradually adding stock rather than boiling it in a pot of water. Genius! And it works!
Skillet Toasted Penne with Cajun Shrimp
- 1 lb shrimp peeled, deveined
- 1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 6 strips bacon chopped
- 8 ounces mushrooms sliced
- 2 bell peppers chopped
- 6 cups unsalted chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 8 ounces penne pasta uncooked
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- chopped parsley for garnish
- Combine seasonings for shrimp from Creole seasoning - black pepper in a small bowl, setting aside 1 tbsp. Toss together shrimp with seasoning mix in a Ziploc bag until shrimp are evenly coated.
- Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped bacon and cook until browned. Remove bacon and set aside. Discard all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Return pan to heat. Add sliced mushrooms and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add bell peppers and cook 1 minute. Make a well in the center and add shrimp. Cook shrimp until firm and opaque, about 3-4 minutes. Add the bacon back to the pan and stir all together. Remove toppings from heat and set aside.
- Heat stock in a saucepan over medium heat until simmering, but not boiling.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the oil is hot, add onion and garlic. Saute until onions are softened, about 4 minutes. Add pasta and toast until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly until the stock has been almost all absorbed before adding more liquid. The pasta will take about 35 minutes total.
- Add the shrimp mixture to the penne and stir to combine. Stir in grated parmesan and reserved 1 tablespoon seasoning mix. Garnish with parsley. Serve.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
If you're unfamiliar with risotto, it is a classic Italian dish in which rice is slowly cooked in a broth until it has a creamy consistency. The rice releases its starches while absorbing the liquid, resulting in a creamy rice dish without any cream. Now apply this method to making pasta and just imagine the results - curious yet? I've made orzo using the risotto method, so why not pasta? The pasta takes longer to cook but the end result is well worth it.
First things first heat the chicken broth or the liquid of your choosing. Adding hot broth to the pasta keeps a constant temperature, shortening the cooking process. When you're ready to cook, use a wide pot to allow the pasta to cook evenly. After adding the aromatics (onion and garlic), add the penne and cook in the oil until it is toasted. Toasting the pasta before cooking brings out a nutty flavor and adds another element to the dish.
Start cooking the pasta by adding the broth in 1 cup increments. Halfway through, you'll notice the penne starting to soften.
Finish the penne with Cajun shrimp, bacon, mushrooms, bell peppers, and grated Parmesan. There is so much flavor in this penne with Cajun shrimp. The penne has a great nuttiness while the shrimp is spicy, bacon is salty, and mushrooms are earthy. This dish comes together so well - I have to say, I'm quite proud of the results. Dishes like these remind me that experimenting with new methods can be well worth your time!
For more pasta inspiration check out this rigatoni with butternut squash spicy sausage recipe!