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  • Brittany Sparks

Lightened Up Pesto Pasta with Garlic Shrimp and Tomatoes

When I was pregnant for the first time two years ago pesto pasta was one thing I always craved, however I did not enjoy the end results of gastric reflux after consuming this heavily oiled dish. This is when I came up with this recipe. It is much lighter on the oil and fat content and does not bother my stomach. Now that I am pregnant again the reflux is back and I have been using this recipe often. I am delighted that it is also a big hit with my toddler, so that makes this a winner in my house. This lightened up version delivers that amazing taste and mouthfeel of a good pesto dish but will not leave your plate with a pile of oil.

I used peas to bulk up this pesto and aid in the bright green color of this dish. Peas supply a good dose of fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin C, iron, magnesium and zinc. Peas also provide a good dose of plant based protein. Fresh or frozen peas can be used. Did you know that frozen peas retain much of their nutritional value and flavor as fresh peas?

With summer now in full swing basil is very easy to find and if you grow it you should start having a surplus like me. Right now I have two big pots filled with fresh basil. Fresh basil contains calcium, iron, folate and vitamin A. I love the smell and taste of basil in a pesto however any greens can be used, including carrot tops and spinach.

This pesto will look a bit thick but will come together as a sauce using the reserved pasta water. So do not forget to save a cup prior to draining your cooked pasta! I use part skim ricotta cheese to add a nice creaminess to the dish. Choosing part skim ricotta will help to cut back on the saturated fat content of this dish. Ricotta is a good source of calcium, protein and vitamin A.

In this recipe I choose to use shrimp as they are quick and easy to prepare and also because I cannot get enough shrimp with this pregnancy! Shrimp contain very little calories and are low in saturated fat. They also provide omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B12 and selenium. If you do not like shrimp you can also use chicken breast or forgo the protein all together.

So take advantage of summers best with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil from the garden or local farmers market and try out this lightened up pesto dinner.


Lightened Up Pesto Pasta with Garlic Shrimp and Tomatoes

Author: Brittany Sparks

Makes: 12 (1 Cup) Servings

Prep Time: 10 Minutes

Cook Time: 20 Minutes

Total Time: 30 Minutes


To toast the pine nuts place in a small pan with heat on medium for about 1 to 2 minutes until their oils start to appear. They will become shiny and give off a pleasant aroma.


Instead of using pasta you can use a whole grain such as farro or quinoa or spiralized zucchini noodles. Just skip the reserved pasta water step.


  • 1lb of Spaghetti or noodles of your choice

  • 1 ½ Cups Peas (Fresh or Frozen)

  • 2 Cups of Fresh Basil (~42 grams)

  • ¼ Cup Toasted Pine Nuts

  • 2 Garlic Cloves (Whole)

  • 3-4 Garlic Cloves (Minced)

  • ¼ Cup Part Skim Ricotta Cheese

  • ¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese

  • 3 Tbsp + 1 Tsp of Olive Oil

  • 1 Tsp Salt

  • 1 Tsp Pepper

  • 2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes (Halved)

  • 1 Cup Reserved Pasta Water

  • ½ Pound Raw Shrimp (Shelled)


  1. Fill a large pot with water and allow it to come to a boil.

  2. In a food processor place the basil, cooked/thawed peas, 2 garlic cloves and toasted pine nuts. Pulse ingredients together until blended. Slowly add in 3 Tbsp of olive oil. Scoop down sides of food processor and pulse again.

  3. Remove mixture and place in a bowl. Stir in the ricotta, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Set aside.

  4. At this time add the pasta to the water and cook according to package directions. Make sure to reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.

  5. While the pasta is cooking in a large nonstick skillet place 1 tsp of oil and the halved cherry tomatoes and shrimp and cook over medium heat for about 3 to 4 minutes. You want to cook the tomatoes just until their skins start to wrinkle. If you cook them too long they will fall apart. The shrimp should turn pink when done. Now add the minced garlic and 1 tablespoon of the pesto and cook an additional minute. Remove from heat.

  6. Now add the remainder of the pesto to the pasta and mix. Add a little at a time of the reserved pasta water to help create a sauce. I ended up using about ½ cup of my pasta water till my sauce came together.

  7. Plate your pasta and serve topped with some of the garlic shrimp and tomatoes.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 1 Cup

Calories 241, Total Fat 7.2 g, Saturated Fat 1.4 g, Monounsaturated Fat 3.4 g, Polyunsaturated Fat 1.7 g, Sodium 348 mg, Total Carbohydrate 34 g, Dietary Fiber 2.8 g, Protein 10.4 g, Potassium 250 mg, Phosphorous 185 mg, 64 mg Calcium, 812 IU Vitamin A, 1.9 mg Iron, 168 mcg Folate.

A Note for Those with Kidney Disease: You can still have tomatoes in moderation but be sure to work with your dietitian for guidance. Fresh tomatoes are better than tomato sauces or pastes where it takes a lot of tomatoes to make a little sauce. In this recipe the fresh cherry tomatoes do add a chunk of potassium so be sure to watch your portion size. You can also substitute the tomatoes with chopped broccoli and bell pepper to reduce the amount of potassium in this dish.


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