This flavorful recipe is the Mediterranean way to enjoy seafood! Use your favorite type of pasta and make a delicious, low-fat dinner.
If you ask me, the star of this dish is ouzo. OK, shrimp plays a major role too, but without the ouzo, it’s just another shrimp pasta. But let’s take things from the start. For this recipe, I wanted to make a light tomato and roasted pepper sauce to accompany the shrimp and provide a nice background where all the flavors from the shrimp and the ouzo would develop. I figured that since I’m already roasting the peppers why not roast the tomatoes also? Of course, since the tomatoes have higher water content than the peppers, they don’t get too caramelized or charred, but they lose some moisture and become sweeter. After roasting, all I did was to remove the skins from the vegetables and blend everything to get a smooth sauce. This sauce literally transforms with the addition of star anise and ouzo, both of which have similar flavor profiles and pair amazingly well with seafood.
As you can see from the picture, I probably should have left the peppers in the oven for some more, but I was really hungry!
Ouzo is a transparent, anise-flavored spirit similar to sambuca. Its main characteristic is that it has a strong aroma and it turns white when mixed with water. And you should mix it with water, not only to experience firsthand this kind of “magic” but also because this is the best way to enjoy it since it becomes more mellow and you reduce the risk of getting drunk too quickly. Ouzo is usually served in Greek taverns inside tall and narrow glasses with a lot of ice, and it’s the perfect accompaniment for seafood and other side dishes, often called meze.
In fact, some side dishes with seafood, fish, olives, feta cheese or vegetables, which pair very well with ouzo are called “ouzo-meze”. This recipe can also be served as meze, if you just omit the pasta and leave the shrimp plain with their sauce :-). Or, you can try this juicy shrimp saganaki which is an easier side dish, since it doesn’t require any roasting. In Crete, we also have a special type of rusks made from chickpea bread, called ouzo-rusks because they are the perfect accompaniment for ouzo and all the related meze. If you want to know more about this traditional type of bread which rises solely from the power of chickpea bacteria, check my chickpea starter Cretan traditional bread (Eftazimo) post.
How long should you roast the peppers? Since every oven is different, you should check every now and then until you see black spots on their surface.
Are there any other ways I can roast my peppers? Yes, check this post from thekitchn
Can you skip the roasting step? Yes, I’ve also made this recipe without the roasting step, and it’s great, but without the “smoked” flavor.
Should I peel my shrimp before cooking them? You can keep the heads and shells of the shrimp and peell them while you eat them. This will produce a more fragrant dish, BUT it is A LOT messier (and nerve-racking!!!). To get as much flavor possible from the shrimp as I can, I wrap the shells and heads with a cheesecloth and boil them in the water for the pasta. When I want to get extra fancy, I first sauté them with some olive oil (the same oil with which I will make the sauce) so that it absorbs their aroma and then transfer them to the pot where the pasta will cook. However, this step makes the recipe a little more complicated and that’s why I haven’t included it here.
If you don’t have any ouzo or sambuca, use one extra star anise.
- 2 ripe tomatoes
- 2 red bell peppers or sweet horn peppers
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 1 star anise
- 1/4 cup ouzo
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste, optional, for stronger tomato flavor
- 10 large shrimp (5 per person)
- 5-8 basil leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon pepper flakes (bukovo, hot or sweet)
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese for serving
- 1/2 pound spaghetti or the equivalent of two servings
Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C)
Cut the tomatoes in half and place them cut-side up on the baking pan with the peppers. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until peppers are charred and fragrant.
Cut the peppers in half, remove seeds and peel off their skins. Peel the skins off the tomatoes also.
Blend the tomatoes and peppers in a blender (or process in a food processor) until smooth.
Rinse shrimp, remove their heads and peel them. Wrap shells and heads with a piece of cheesecloth and secure with kitchen twine.
Place the cheesecloth in a pot and fill with enough water to boil the pasta. When the water starts to boil remove the cheesecloth, add the pasta and some salt and cook according to directions but one minute less.
Drain and set aside.
While pasta is cooking, sauté the onion with the star anise and olive oil in a large saucepan or skillet over medium/high heat until soft, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the pepper/tomato puree, tomato paste (optional), ouzo, basil, salt, and pepper and boil for 1 minute or until the alcohol has evaporated.
Add the shrimp and cook for 4-5 minutes (depending on their size).
When shrimp is almost done, add the spaghetti into the saucepan and stir gently to loosen it up. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 more minute.
Sprinkle with bukovo and feta cheese and serve immediately.
You can skip the roasting step if you want to save time.
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