Spaghetti with Shrimp, Zucchini and Lemon

Labor Day weekend is the turning point. Fall is creeping slowly in. The sun has lost a little of its intensity, the nights are getting cooler, and we are starting to see that random falling leaf or two that can only mean one thing. We are on our way. 

Live in the moment. Find joy in the here and now. Spoon up every bit of what nature has to offer. To savor the last bit of summer you need a dish that’s flavorful, quick and easy. This Spaghetti with Shrimp, Zucchini and Lemon is the perfect dish for summer’s end. It’s light, but satisfying in a comfort food sort of way, which is something you aren’t accustomed to with summer fare. And it’s surprisingly easy to make.

Sometimes I tell you to use what you have, but this dish is so amazing I think you should make it exactly as is. There are very few ingredients, but each one plays off the others perfectly. The pasta was al dente, the shrimp were plump, the sauce was silky and perfectly flavored, and the lemon zest gave everything a bright pop. What resulted was soul-satisfyingly delicious – the perfect dish to honor the end of summer. One caveat: if you happen to have an ear of corn, fresh from the farm, scatter some of the just barely cooked kernels over the top. You won’t regret it. 

The recipe calls for a pound of spaghetti, but you can save time by using fresh pasta. Because it cooks so rapidly, you can even cook it right in the sauce, which is a great tactic to remember for busy nights. However, because there is not much initial sauce volume here, I don’t recommend trying that with this recipe. 

I used Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Egg Fettucine Pasta, which cooked in 3 to 4 minutes. Be aware that with fresh pasta you don’t have much wriggle room. It can rapidly go from al dente to all mushy a lot faster than you’d imagine. If you have a pasta pot, I recommend using it. The inner pot will let you remove all of the pasta quickly from the boiling water, leaving the starchy “liquid gold” (cooking liquid) behind. I tested my pasta and removed it while it was still very firm, at about 2 minutes. This worked just right, because it came out toothsome after it’s brief stint in the sauce. 

I always have a bag of shrimp in my freezer because it’s such a time-saving protein when you’re trying to build a quick meal. To use it here, thaw by placing your shrimp in a 9×13-inch baking dish, covering it completely with very cold water. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes until shrimp are fully thawed, then transfer to a colander to drain and rinse with cold running water. Next, spread shrimp onto a paper towel-lined tray where they should be fine to hang out for a small amount of time until you’re ready to use them. 

The garlic cloves are smashed, another time-saver, and they just flavor the oil so they’re not overpowering. The recipe says to discard them, but why waste? Season with a little salt and roast them in a 400º F oven until they are tender, golden and creamy. Blend them into dips like white bean or hummus, add to mashed potatoes or pasta, use them to top pizza, or simply spread onto warm crusty bread. 

There’s no time to waste here. Once you start cooking, this will move along so quickly you need everything prepped and ready. Fill your spaghetti pot with water and let it heat while you work. Zest and juice two lemons. Dice your zucchini. Chop your oregano. Measure out 1/2 cup of white wine, 1/2 cup of chicken stock, and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan (if using). Peel and smash your garlic. Set out olive oil, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, your pasta, and your butter. Now you’re ready to begin. 

Go and get some zucchini so you can make this right now. Pick up some corn from the farm. If we have to say goodbye, let’s do it with a great send off. 

Spaghetti with Shrimp, Zucchini and Lemon

  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 cloves garlic, gently smashed with the side of a knife, but mostly kept whole, divided
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined 
  • kosher salt
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound spaghetti of choice 
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 2 Tablespoons butter 
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 4 sprigs oregano, picked and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (optional)

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Coat a very large sauté pan generously with olive oil. Add 5 of the garlic cloves and a pinch of crushed red pepper, then bring the pan to medium-high heat. Once garlic is golden and aromatic, remove and discard. Add shrimp to pan, season with salt and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pan and reserve; shrimp will not be fully cooked. 

Coat pan generously with olive oil, then add remaining garlic and another pinch of crushed red pepper, cooking over medium-high heat. When garlic is golden and aromatic, remove and discard. Add zucchini to pan, season with salt and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and reduce by half. 

Drop pasta into cooking water and cook for 2 minutes less than the directions on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water, then strain pasta. 

While pasta is cooking, add chicken stock to the pan with the zucchini. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add butter and swirl to incorporate. Add cooked pasta to the pan along with half of the reserved pasta cooking water. Toss to combine. Add the lemon zest and juice, cooked shrimp and remaining pasta water as needed to make a thick sauce. Turn off heat and add oregano, a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan if using. Toss or swirl vigorously to combine. Plate and serve immediately.

-Anne Burrell 

Donna Ferguson

Donna Ferguson

I love to cook, garden, and write about all the things in Vancouver and the Northwest that make life so great.

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