This is a quick and simple recipe to add to your file: Flavor-packed shrimp in a garlicky tomato and basil sauce, served over creamy, cheesy polenta. It’s like shrimp and grits, Italian-style!
When I have a serious craving for shrimp, I usually turn to my favorite Garlic Butter Shrimp Pasta, a simple dish of buttery, garlicky shrimp tangled up with spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine pasta.
But sometimes we’re in the mood for something other than pasta (can you believe it?!) or other times I’m cooking for people who are gluten intolerant and avoid eating wheat.
The perfect soft polenta recipe
That’s where polenta comes into the picture — because of its gentle taste and creamy texture, it’s the perfect landing pad for foods that are saucy, tangy, spicy and garlicky.
Polenta is also naturally gluten-free.
I like my polenta smooth, creamy-textured and full of Parmesan cheese, and I’ve perfected the recipe for soft polenta after years of making it.
Next to steaming bowls of pasta with shrimp, creamy, cheesy polenta is right up there for Italian comfort food.
And so my Tomato Basil Shrimp and Polenta was born!
It’s a perfect meal for a weeknight dinner or a relaxed supper with friends on the weekend, along with a salad and a chilled white wine or rosé.
This shrimp and polenta is a little different than my usual recipe, which uses a good amount of butter.
Instead, the sauce base is made with extra-virgin olive oil infused with the bold flavors of fresh garlic, red bell peppers, tomatoes and chili pepper.
Basic Pantry ingredients for this recipe
- Fresh cherry tomatoes
- Red bell pepper
- Garlic cloves
- Shallot or onion
- Fresh basil leaves
- Crushed red chili
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coarse yellow cornmeal (polenta)
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Fresh lemon juice or dry white wine
Of course, along with the pantry ingredients listed above you’ll need one pound of peeled shrimp to complete the dish.
- Use thawed frozen shrimp or fresh shrimp, if you can get your hands on them.
- I prefer jumbo size shrimp (16-20 per pound), but extra large (26-30 per pound) or large (31-35 per pound) shrimp are all perfect to use in this recipe.
Tomato Basil Shrimp and Polenta
For the polenta
- 5 cups (1 l) water OR use 4 cups water and 1 cup milk for creamier polenta
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
- 1 cup (160 g) coarse cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) butter or extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
For the Shrimp
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound (450 g) extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 cups (300 g) cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1 cup (150 g) chopped red bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) finely chopped shallot or onion
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) grated or pressed garlic, about 3 plump cloves
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) fresh lemon juice or dry white wine
- 1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper, to taste
- 2 cups (50 g) fresh basil leaves
To make the polenta
- Bring the water (and milk if using) to a boil in a heavy sauce pan or Dutch oven. Stir in the salt.
- Gradually sprinkle the polenta into the pan while whisking at the same time. Turn the heat to a very low simmer and cover the pan. Continue to cook the polenta for 25 – 30 minutes, until the polenta is thickened, fluffy and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- When the polenta is done, remove from the heat and stir in the butter or olive oil, cheese and season with additional salt if you like.
To make the shrimp
- Pour the oil into a 10-12-inch skillet and place over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the shrimp in one layer. Cook until the shrimp begin to turn opaque on the bottom, about 2 minutes.
- Turn the shrimp over and add the tomatoes, red bell pepper, shallot, garlic and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and cook until the tomatoes soften and become juicy and the shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the basil over the shrimp.
- Serve the polenta in shallow bowls with the shrimp and sauce spooned over the top. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese and enjoy!