Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Fried Capers

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Servings : Prep Time : Cook Time : Ready In : Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Fried Capers will bring out the lemon lover in you. This easy to prepare recipe can be on the table in 30 minutes or less.

A white bowl with lemony pasta tossed with shrimp and topped with fried capers

Like lemon? Then this recipe for Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Fried capers is for you. It’s a perfect combination of a light lemony sauce tossed with pasta and small shrimp. The fried capers add a textual element and a slight tang.

Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Fried Capers


  • For the Shrimp

    1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 pound small (U70/90) shrimp (wild-caught preable)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • For the Pasta

    8 ounces long pasta of your choice - cooked according to package directions, 1 cup pasta water reserved
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (a nice fruity one is best)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (about 1 large lemon, zest first, juice second)
  • Coarsely ground fresh black pepper, to taste (I like a lot)
  • Salt, as needed
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons fried capers


Step 1

Prepare the Shrimp

Small shrimp generally come shelled and deveined. Thaw if frozen. If using another size shrimp, peel and devein as needed.

Heat the oil in a saute pan, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, allow to simmer over low heat to infuse the oil with flavor. Increase heat to medium and add the shrimp. Saute, stirring often, until the shrimp are just cooked through. Set-aside.

Step 2

Prepare the Pasta and Sauce

Set a large pot of water to boil and add a good amount of salt. Once boiling add your pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water (you may not need it all, but it's nice to have if you do).

Step 3

While your pasta is cooking, whisk together the oil, cheese, lemon juice, and zest in a large bowl. Set-aside.

Step 4

Fry the Capers

Rinse the capers in water then dry very well. In a small straight-sided skillet (I use my small saucepan) heat about 1/4 inch of olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the capers (they will spit and splatter, thus the deeper pan) and stir until they have popped open and are crispy, about 1 - 2 minutes total Drain on paper towels. Set-aside.

Step 5

Put it all together

Add the cooked pasta to the bowl with the lemony sauce and toss well. Add the shrimp along with the flavored oil, and toss. Toss in the basil, toss. Add small amounts of the extra pasta water if the pasta seems too dry. Divide between 4 heated bowls, top evenly with capers. Grind a nice grind of black pepper. Serve with additional parm cheese if desired.

Step 6

Some quick and easy variations

1. Use Zucchini noodles (zoodles) in place of the pasta. 2. Toss in some fresh arugula 3. Use 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary in place of the basil. 4. If the dish seems too tart or lemony for your taste, toss with a couple of tablespoons heavy cream to mellow it out.

The making and methods of Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Fried Capers


Lemony Pasta in a white bowl with garlic bread


I like lemony things.

I have a lemon tree growing in my front yard. It gives me lemons all year.

And since it’s now just BB and me, I like easy to make, fairly low-fat dishes.

So making this recipe for Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Fried Capers was a pretty easy decision. Lemon, fruity olive oil, tender shrimp on a bed of pasta. Oh, lest we forget the added crunch of fried capers.

Fast food with style.

Let’s talk a bit about the ingredients and methods used in making this dish.


A bowl of Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Fried Capers ready to eat


The Pasta

Any kind of long pasta will work with this dish. Spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, Angel hair. They all work. Gluten-free pasta will work as well.

When shopping for pasta, I like to buy Italian pasta. I find that generally, they not only cook up better but also make for better pasta water. I believe, although I can’t prove it, that flour grown in Europe is grown with less chemicals being added. I also have a tendency to believe that it’s these chemicals that cause Americans so much distress with their “gluten-intolerance”. An Italian can’t go a day without their pasta intake, and they don’t seem to have the same issues as we do here in the states. The way they mill pasta in Italy is also different, using bronze forms rather than Teflon, which helps the pasta bind better with sauce. Many supermarkets carry Italian pasta, so if you have the ability to buy it, I say go for it.

If you don’t want to go for the “made with flour” pasta, certainly feel free to go gluten-free. Or, you could use Zucchini spaghetti which is now widely available as zoodles. Since I put up the first video of zucchini spaghetti on YouTube almost 8 years ago, I’m going to call it that. You all can zoodle if you so choose.

Salting your pasta water. Yes, yes you should salt your pasta water. BUT I have a problem with some of the suggestions that you need to use a great deal of salt. Because I’m cooking less than a pound of pasta, I use less water, only about 2 quarts and only half of the recommended 1 1/2 tablespoons salt. I want my water to have flavor, but not to be so salty that it oversalts my final dish. I can always add salt, but it’s very hard to take it away. I use less water also to allow the starch from the pasta to leech into the water. This is the reason to save 1 cup of pasta water and not just use 1 cup of water. The starchy salted water adds flavor.

Putting oil in your pasta water.  No, no and then no. There is no need to ever put oil in your pasta water. If you must hold the pasta for a while and don’t want it to stick, toss the finished cooked pasta with a bit of oil after it’s been drained. But no oil will allow the sauce to stick better, so try to time your pasta to be ready to add hot to the finished sauce.


A bowl of Lemony Pasta ready to serve with some extra cheese in the background


Know your Shrimp

I have often spoken out against farmed fish due to the unsanitary conditions used in fish farms. And although some fish farms are making great strides to “clean up” their act, it’s still a hit or miss. While the farming practices of Norwegian farm-raised salmon have improved so dramatically that I will eat it, the same is not true for many fish farms including tilapia and catfish. And shrimp farms are no different.

Most shrimp farms are situated off the coast of Thailand, Indonesian, Equador, China, and many other far away places. Shrimp are put into pens that are overcrowded and unsanitary. The unsanitary conditions demand the use of antibiotics and other antifungals that are dangerous to your health. There are many reasons not to buy or eat farmed shrimp including the use of chemicals and the fact that these farms are very bad for the environment. Once they have polluted the farm, usually in about 7 years, it must be closed and the operation moved. The area the farm inhabited is now uninhabitable for a long time.

It is very difficult to know exactly where your shrimp comes from. Most packaging does not tell you the origin of your shrimp. If it doesn’t tell you – don’t buy it. If it tells you it’s from Thailand or any other place known for shrimp farms, put it down and walk away.

I buy my shrimp from Whole Foods or my fish purveyor who knows where his shrimp comes from


Small shrimp, Large shrimp, Jumbo shrimp

Shrimp come in many sizes. From small to large. Generally, they are packaged by how many shrimp there are to a pound. For example, Jumbo shrimp are generally 21/25 per pound where medium shrimp run 41/50 per pound. For this recipe, I used small shrimp 70/90 per pound. Why? Because I like that they are already bite-sized. And they were already peeled and deveined.


A bag with the shrimp used in the recipe f


You can, of course, use larger shrimp. If you choose shell on, you will need to remove the shell and devein the shrimp prior to cooking And of course, your cooking time will be slightly longer, and you will have to cut the shrimp when you eat your dinner, but it’s all up to you, the cook, to make these decisions. The flavors will still be there.


Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Fried Capers in a bowl with garlic bread


Fried Capers

It seems like such a minor part of the total dish you might think to skip this part. But I wouldn’t. This tiny bit of crunch gives the dish an interesting textual mouthfeel. Frying the caper takes away the pickled flavor associated with capers and gives them an almost nutty flavor.

Frying capers is not hard, although you may get some nice sizzle and spit from them. I like to use a deep 1-quart saucepan which helps minimize the spatter. The most important things to remember when frying capers is:

  1. Make sure the capers are as dry as you can get them.
  2. Heat the oil to simmering before you put the capers into the oil.
  3. Fry in smaller batches if making a large number of fried capers, no more than 2 tablespoons at a time.
  4. Watch out for spatter.

That’s it. Fry them about 1 minute or so, remove to a paper towel to drain, and you are good to go. Added bonus, you now have some caper flavored oil you can use on another dish. Or drizzle it over this dish.


The final dish ready to eat Lemony Pasta with Shrimp and Fried Capers



Personally, I love choices. And this dish has the possibility for many different variations. Of course, the first one being, what type of pasta you use. Or if you use pasta at all. Zucchini spaghetti will work and keep this dish gluten-free.

Another would be the addition of some arugula. The peppery arugula would play very well with the sweet shrimp and lemony sauce. Just toss in a few handfuls when you add the pasta to the sauce.

Third, if you are not into the sharpness of the lemon, you could add less and or add a little bit of heavy cream. The cream will mellow out the lemon. After tossing the pasta with the sauce, add about 2 tablespoons cream and toss again. Then add the shrimp and toss gently to mix.

Another option is to omit the basil and use the more pungent rosemary. Rosemary would love to play with the flavors in the dish. Don’t use too much rosemary as she has a tendency to overpower. So 1 or 2 teaspoons well-minced rosemary is all you would need.

OK, cheers to another easy peasy on the table in 30 minutes or less dinner that is company worthy. 

Wine Recommendation: With the bright flavors in this dish, it’s perfect with a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. Or if you want to venture into the European side of wine, try it with a Spanish Albarino.

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