This Pesto Shrimp and Grits is an amazing fusion of two of my favorite cuisines: Italian and American Southern. Just imagine succulent shrimp coated in that herby, garlicky, nutty pesto sauce. Sound good? Now pile them on a bed of creamy grits enhanced with fresh parmesan cheese. If you love comfort food, this is a new star in your kitchen!
So does pesto shrimp and grits even exist? It does at GypsyPlate! And why not? If we can make chicken tikka gyros we obviously don’t mind mixing and matching cuisines here and there.
This combination popped into my head recently when I saw a big bunch of fresh basil at my local produce market. What interesting thing could I cook for my readers? I wanted something new and original. And then that light bulb clicked in my head… pesto shrimp and grits!
What is shrimp and grits?
Shrimp and grits originated in the Lowcountry coastal region of the Carolinas and Georgia. There are many variations, but all involve a pile of grits (a cornmeal porridge popular in the South) topped with shrimp.
Though this dish was very regional until the 1980’s, it has recently spread throughout the South. You’ll be hard pressed to find a seafood restaurant here in Florida without this one on the menu!
Some variations include other meats like bacon or sausage. Some are dry and some are very saucy. But they are all delicious.
Try my blackened shrimp and grits one day when you want a little spicy!
What is pesto?
Pesto is an amazingly tasty sauce from Genoa in Italy. It consists of olive oil, basil, garlic, pine nuts and hard cheese such as Parmigiano. These ingredients can be ground with a pestle and mortar or blended.
It is generally served with pasta. But it’s so tasty people use it all sorts of ways, like my pesto chicken bruschetta.
If you are going with homemade today, try my super easy 5 minute pesto recipe. You can use store bought sauce if you like, but those five minutes are worth it!
- Pesto Sauce – If making homemade, basil, garlic, salt, fresh parmesan cheese, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
- Parmesan Cheese
- Basil leaves and pine nuts – For garnish.
- Cherry Tomatoes – Optional, but they go great and make your bowl so pretty.
How to make pesto shrimp and grits
This is one of those quick and easy ones…
For the pesto
If making your own homemade pesto, simply blend all ingredients in a grinder into a rough paste. Add in olive oil and lemon juice and blend until desired consistency. Taste and adjust.
For the grits
Cook grits according to the directions on the package. For creamier grits, substitute milk for a portion of the water. For this particular recipe I didn’t want them overly creamy so only used 1/4 milk.
Once cooked, stir in freshly shredded parm cheese.
For the shrimp
Add oil to a skillet and heat over medium high heat. Cook shrimp about 2 minutes per side, until they are pink and opaque. You don’t want to overcook them or else they will get tough.
Reduce heat and stir in pesto sauce and tomatoes. Cook just until hot.
Immediately serve a generous helping of shrimp over steaming hot grits. Garnish with some fresh basil leaves and pine nuts.
What kind of shrimp to use for pesto shrimp and grits
I always prefer big shrimp for this one. Today I used jumbo 11-15 per pound shrimp. If you can find wild caught, they are much tastier than farm raised.
While you’re here, check out my roundup of the best shrimp recipes.
What kind of grits to use
Old fashioned slow cook grits are the creamiest. They take about 15-20 minutes to cook.
That being said, if you are so eager to chow down you can use quick cook grits. They take about 5 minutes.
I prefer white grits to yellow for this recipe. They are milder, allowing the pesto shrimp flavors to really stand out.
Tips for perfect shrimp and grits
- If using some milk for your grits, heat it separately in a cup in the microwave. Once the water is boiling, stir in milk along with the grits. This ensures that the milk doesn’t scorch to the bottom of the pan.
- Salt the water before adding grits. Once cooked, they will not absorb the salt.
- Stir grits frequently for the first few minutes to avoid clumping.
- If grits thicken up while preparing the shrimp, simply stir in a little more water until you get the desired consistency.
- If using frozen shrimp, make sure to first thaw completely by submerging in water.
- When peeling shrimp, make sure to also remove the dark vein running along the back of the shrimp. Of course, you can always buy already peeled and deveined shrimp to make life easier.
- Pat shrimp dry with a paper towel to avoid splattering and so you get a nice brown sear.
- Sometimes I like to cook my grits with stock for a richer flavor. Try substituting half of the water for either chicken or vegetable stock.
- If you want more veggie power, try adding some sliced mushrooms, zucchini or colored bell peppers. Remove shrimp from the pan prior to adding pesto sauce. Sauté veggies in the same pan and once cooked stir back in shrimp and sauce.
- If you are like me and love mixing and matching seafoods, try substituting half of the shrimp for jumbo scallops. So good.
- If you are dairy free, just omit the milk and cheese, or substitute the cheese for a vegan cheese. Take note that store bought pesto sauces will have cheese, so you will want to make your own.
Storing and reheating leftovers
Grits store great for up to five days in an airtight container in the fridge. To reheat, mix with additional water (about 1/4 cup per cup of cooked grits) in a pan over medium low heat. Sometimes I make my grits ahead of time as it is so I can whip up my dinner in mere minutes.
The shrimp can refrigerate for a couple of days. Just reheat with a sprinkling of water in a skillet over medium low heat. Personally, I prefer to eat my seafood freshly cooked.
Well, my friends, I bet you haven’t heard of this combination before! But believe me, these pesto shrimp and grits are a fantastic fusion of flavors. Give this one a try, it can be an easy weeknight dinner or a special occasion stunner. Let me know how you like it, and be sure to share and pin this recipe! Until next time…
Pesto Shrimp and Grits, in my Gypsy Bowl… enjoy!
For the Pesto Shrimp
- 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 3/4 cup pesto sauce (see note 1)
- 1.5 cups cherry tomatoes
For the Grits
- 1 cup grits
- 4 cups water (see note 2)
- 1 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
To cook the Grits
- Bring 4 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add salt to the water and stir in grits. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until cooked, stirring frequently. Refer to package for cooking time. Slow cook take about 15-20 minutes, quick cook about 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in cheese. If grits thicken too much while preparing shrimp, you can stir a little additional water into the grits.
To cook the Pesto Shrimp
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.
- Add shrimp and cook until pink and opaque, about 1-2 minutes per side.
- Reduce heat to low, add in pesto sauce and cheery tomatoes. Cook until sauce is warmed.
- Serve immediately over grits.
- If you wish to make your own pesto homemade pesto sauce, blending the following ingredients yields about 1 cup of pesto sauce:
2 cups basil
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup Parmigiano cheese (or other hard cheese)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
- For creamier grits, substitute 1-2 cups milk in place of an equal amount of water. Heat the milk in a bowl in the microwave and add to boiling water at the same time as the grits to avoid scorching the bottom of the pan.
Nutrition InformationYield 4 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 568Total Fat 38gSaturated Fat 9gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 26gCholesterol 265mgSodium 1737mgCarbohydrates 16gFiber 2gSugar 2gProtein 40g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
Be sure to check out my roundup of the 30+ BEST Shrimp Recipes!
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