Scallop pasta may have your restaurant-only alarm bells ringing, but you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make at home. This fancy feeling date-night recipe comes together in just 20 minutes!
Scallop pasta gets an unfair wrap. People think they need to spend wild amounts at a fancy restaurant where they give you maybe 3 scallops if you’re lucky! It gets forced into the special occasion box and locked up for a splurgy night out.
In truth, scallop pasta is quick enough for a weeknight dinner. Just like sauteed shrimp, scallops need less than 5 minutes in a pan to become juicy and tender and they are Mediterranean Diet friendly. And, if you don’t have access to fresh scallops, frozen scallops are easy to find and economical. They bring the delicately briny and sweet flavor and tenderness that have made fresh scallops so prized.
In this scallop pasta recipe, fresh or frozen scallops are pan-seared to golden brown. The drippings caramelize in your pan and become jewels of concentrated flavor. We take full advantage: whisking in olive oil, garlic, lemon, and just a touch of milk until everything is emulsified. It’s creamy and decadent but not overly rich. Of course, I never skimp on the garlic! A generous amount adds a bold and irresistible flavor that complements the delicate scallops perfectly.
I keep this scallop pasta recipe in my back pocket for a Friday night when I’m short on time but want to welcome the weekend with open arms. It’s also a handy way to break up the weeknight routine. Serve with good crusty bread from the store. Or, even better, bake yourself Rosemary Focaccia or Ciabatta Garlic Bread. Kick off the evening with Aperol Spritz and you have yourself a date!
Table of Contents
Ingredients for Scallop Pasta
Scallop pasta requires just a quick trip to the grocery store for easy-to-source ingredients.
- Spaghetti: Spaghetti’s long, thin shape pairs well with the delicate texture and flavor of scallops. Bucatini or angel hair would be worthy substitutions.
- Scallops: Look for firm, large sea scallops (not bay scallops, which are smaller). Fresh or frozen work well. If you’re using frozen scallops, place them in a sealed bag and set in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes to thaw.
- Seasoning: Salt and pepper enhance the flavor. The trick to seasoning is to season with a pinch here and there throughout cooking. And, always adjust to taste.
- Olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil is a major flavor component of the sauce. Use a smooth, buttery olive oil that’s not bitter, like our Italian Nocellara.
- Shallot: Sweet, mild shallots bring a subtle oniony flavor to the sauce without overpowering the delicate scallops. If you need to substitute, use 1 ½ tablespoons of finely chopped yellow onion.
- Garlic: A heavy dose of garlic gives this pasta its bold flavor (and makes your kitchen smell incredible).
- Aleppo pepper: Aleppo pepper is a type of dried chili pepper commonly used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. It adds a mild, slightly fruity kick. Find Aleppo pepper in the spice section of your grocery store, order our favorite from our shop, or substitute with red pepper flakes.
- Lemon: Lemon is a classic complement to briny seafood. I use both the zest and juice to balance the creamy sauce, so go for a lemon that hasn’t been treated with chemicals. Give it a scrub before zesting.
- Milk: Whole milk makes this pasta creamy and luxurious but not too heavy.
- Parmesan: An aged Italian cheese with a nutty, salty flavor. Skip over the pre-shredded stuff and go for the big hunks. The difference in both flavor and texture is well worth washing your cheese grater.
- Parsley: Herbs are like a breath of fresh air for savory, creamy dishes. I never skip them. You’ll use a lot of parsley for this dish, so don’t bother picking every leaf. The tender stems pack a lot of flavor.
How to Cook Scallop Pasta
Scallop pasta comes together quickly. Get your ingredients prepped, measured, and ready before you get started. Your pasta will likely turn out better, and it may even give you time to enjoy yourself!
- Get ready: Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil and season with a big pinch of kosher salt. Finely chop one shallot and mince four garlic cloves. Zest one lemon, then slice in half and collect its juice. Once that is done, grate enough parmesan to yield ½ cup. Chop enough fresh parsley leaves and tender stems to yield ½ cup. Remove the muscles from the scallops (tips below), then pat dry and season all over with salt and pepper.
- Boil the pasta: Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente according to the package instructions. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water just before draining.
- Sear the scallops: Halfway through cooking the pasta, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the scallops without crowding the pan (work in batches if your pan is small). Cook, flipping until golden brown on each side, for about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a rimmed plate and tent loosely with foil to keep warm.
- Make the sauce: Leaving the skillet on medium-high, add ⅓ of olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the shallot, garlic, ½ teaspoon of Aleppo pepper and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and about ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water. Add ½ cup of milk and the grated parmesan. Stir until everything comes together, about 1 minute.
- Add the pasta: Add the drained pasta, lemon zest, and parsley. Toss to coat. The pasta should look nice and glossy. If it’s dry, add a splash more of the pasta cooking water and give it a good stir.
- Add the scallops: Add the scallops and any accumulated juices. Toss very gently to incorporate. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a little more parmesan, salt, pepper, Aleppo, and lemon juice to your liking. Serve immediately.
How to Remove the Muscle from a Scallop
Removing the muscle from the scallops makes them even more delicate and tender. It is a simple process that can be done quickly and easily with a little bit of practice:
- Rinse the scallops under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels.
- Look for the small, tough, and rectangular muscle on the side of the scallop. It will be slightly darker and tougher than the rest of the scallop.
- Hold the scallop firmly on the cutting board with one hand and insert the tip of the knife under the muscle.
- Use a gentle sawing motion to cut the muscle away from the scallop. Take care not to cut too deeply into the meat (you don’t want to waste any of the good stuff!).
- Lift the muscle away from the scallop and discard it.
- Repeat the process with the remaining scallops.
Tips for Buying Scallops: Fresh or Frozen?
If you have access to high quality seafood from a trusted source, go for fresh. Make sure they have a firm texture and creamy white color with a slight pink or orange hue. If I’m not describing your grocery situation, don’t worry! I find that people are often discouraged by the idea of frozen scallops, but they’re actually quite delicious.
Depending on where you live, frozen scallops are typically cheaper and easier to come by. And here's a fun fact: your store’s frozen scallops can actually be fresher than "fresh" scallops in the fish aisle. That's because they're frozen at their peak, versus the "fresh" ones that may have sat at the seafood counter for days. And, often, the seafood counter scallops were once frozen!
Whether you’re working with fresh or frozen, opt for wild-caught if you can. They tend to be more flavorful.
What to Serve with Scallop Pasta
Hearty and decadent, this scallop pasta can easily stand on its own. If you’d still like to go all-out on a side or two, go for recipes that can be made in advance. Scallops shine their brightest right after cooking. You don’t want to fiddle with anything in the last moments before serving.
I love some nice crusty bread and something green. For a date night in, little says “I love you” quite like freshly baked Focaccia.
For a vegetable, try Roasted Fennel With Parmigiano Cheese. The mildly sweet and cheesy flavor of the fennel is the scallops’ perfect match. As our lovely reader Jeff put it best: “Yet another yummy dish that converted my wife into a fan of a vegetable that she said she does not like! The flavor bomb when munching on these is incredible! The balsamic sends it over the edge into Yumtown!” And don’t we all want a ticket on the train to Yumtown?!
To get the timing right, throw the fennel in your oven ten minutes before you start cooking the pasta. Right before you sear the scallops, add the Parmesan cheese. All you need to do is drizzle with balsamic in the final moments and serve!
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- Kosher salt
- 8 ounces spaghetti
- 1 pound sea scallops (about 12 to 16 scallops), muscle removed
- Ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
- 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
- ½ cup whole milk
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- 1 cup chopped parsley leaves
- Boil the pasta: Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil and season with a big pinch of kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook to al dente according to the package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water just before draining.
- Sear the scallops: While the pasta boils, remove the scallops from your refrigerator. Pat them dry and season all over with salt and black pepper. When your pasta is halfway through boiling, heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and, once the oil begins to shimmer, add the scallops. Sear in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan. Cook, flipping until golden brown on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a rimmed plate and tent loosely with foil to keep warm.
- Make the sauce: Leaving the skillet on medium-high, add ⅓ cup of olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the shallot, garlic, Aleppo pepper and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the milk and parmesan and stir until everything comes together, about 1 minute.
- Add the pasta to the sauce: Add the drained pasta, lemon zest, and parsley. Toss to coat. The pasta should look nice and glossy. If it’s dry, add a splash more of the pasta cooking water and give it a good stir.
- Add the scallops: Add the scallops and any accumulated juices and toss very gently to incorporate. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more parmesan, salt, pepper, Aleppo, and lemon juice to your liking. Serve immediately.
- Scallops are best served immediately, so it's a good idea to prepare any sides or salads you're serving ahead of time.
- If you’re working with a smaller pan, brown the scallops in batches. This will help them get a nice sear. Once you’ve added the parmesan to the sauce, you can scrape everything into the large pot where you boiled the pasta and add the cooked pasta. This will give you plenty of room to stir, rather than trying to force your small pan to work.
- Scallops can get dry and rubbery when overcooked. Make sure your pan is ripping hot, and sear for only 2 minutes per side. They should turn golden brown and release easily from the pan, which means they’re ready to flip. If they’re sticking, give them a few more seconds and try again.
- Reheating scallops is not recommended as they turn rubbery, so enjoy any leftovers cold or at room temperature.
- Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams and spices.
Yum! Another winner.
I haven’t made this but am excited to try it! Thank you for all the fun and yummy recipes!!!!! We have your new book to all our grown kids for Christmas! Keep it coming!