Shrimp and Polenta with Burst Cherry Tomato Sauce

September 6, 2019

I want to let you in on a secret. 

Weeknight cooking can be easy, stress-free, healthy, and delicious.

While we’re being honest, I want to let you know that this is the goal of most recipes on this site. 

But they don’t always achieve that goal. 

Sometimes recipes turn out better for weekends (Sheet Pan Paprika Chicken, I wish you came to the table more quickly) or dinner parties (Coq Au Vin Pot Pie, you’re too good but too much work for a Monday). 

This recipe is good for those nights when you get home at 6:37pm, you’re hungry, and you’re sick of staring at a screen all day so you want to cook.

But you don’t want it to take an hour. 

Seared shrimp in a skillet

If you have an Instant Pot, five to six of the ingredients on this list, and the will to succeed, you will have dinner on the table in a half hour, max. 

It’ll be enough food to feed 4 people, and it’ll be delicious enough to please those 4 people. It’s also elegant and restaurant-y so if it doesn’t impress the picky eaters in your household, you’ll at least impress yourself.

Flatlay of basil, lemon, cherry tomatoes, tomato paste, and garlic

That’s the goal with every recipe on this site. Making something from nothing that might just cause someone else to smile is the beginning and end of cooking. 

When that dish turns out easy, stress-free, healthy, and delicious, that might just cause the cook herself to smile- as if she’s been let in on some great secret.

Let’s Make Shrimp and Polenta with Burst Cherry Tomato Sauce

If you have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, the polenta will take 9 minutes to make (according to Bon Appetit). I hope this is enough to encourage you to purchase one if you haven’t already. 

The rest of the dish comes together while you wait for the polenta to cook. Have you purchased that pressure cooker yet?

Cherry tomato sauce in a black skillet

First you’ll sear the shrimp, then make the sauce in the same skillet.

Fresh cherry tomatoes and tomato paste sweat together in that skillet, then garlic and red pepper flakes join for the last 2 minutes of cooking.

After just a few minutes over a hot flame, the tomatoes soften, burst and release sweet, acidic juice into the pan. The juices mingle with fruity extra-virgin olive oil to create a shimmering sauce.

Seared shrimp and cherry tomato sauce in a black skillet

A final squeeze of lemon juice excites the dish into a flurry of energetic flavors, while fresh basil brightens its deep red hue. 

Shrimp and polenta with tomato sauce in a white bowl.

Top large, buttered scoops of polenta with fat, pink shrimp and the colorful sauce and dinner is served in one delicious bowl. After just one bite, you’ll understand the secret to weeknight dinner success.

Shrimp & Polenta with Burst Cherry Tomato Sauce

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (9 votes, average: 4.44 out of 5)
Dinner American
By Samantha Serves: 4
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cooking Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 30 minutes

The best-kept secret of weeknight cooking. It's easy, stress-free, healthy, and delicious. Great for the both home cook and her picky eaters.


  • 1 cup polenta (not quick-cooking)
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Hot water or whole milk, as needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound (20-count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, 1 cup halved, 1 cup whole
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Freshly torn basil, for topping



If you don't have an Instant Pot, cook polenta according to package directions. If you have an Instant Pot, whisk polenta and 4 cups of water in the pressure cooker until combined. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium-high, whisk again, then seal pressure cooker. Cook at high pressure for 9 minutes. When timer goes off, manually release pressure. Carefully open lid and whisk polenta until homogenous and creamy. Whisk 3 tablespoons butter into the polenta, then taste and season with more salt if needed. Whisk in hot water or hot milk if it turns out too thick, just remember to add more salt if you add more liquid.


Meanwhile, heat extra-virgin olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and sear 1 minute per side (they will not be fully cooked). Remove them to a plate or bowl.


In the same skillet, lower the heat to medium. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds until it starts to loosen and turn darker red. Add the cherry tomatoes, ¼ cup of water, cover the skillet, and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, add the garlic, red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon salt and cook for 1-2 minutes more, until the garlic is fragrant. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the pan, and cook over low heat for 3 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. Off heat, add the fresh lemon juice and scatter with fresh basil. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.


Serve large scoops of polenta in bowls, then spoon the shrimp and some sauce on top.


  • 263 Calories


Polenta comes from Northern Italy, so try a Northern Italian white wine with this such as Friuli or a light-bodied red. The polenta will firm up once it starts to cool, vigorously whisk in hot water or milk to restore its creamy texture.

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