Pan Seared Scallops with Whole-Wheat Pasta and Fresh Pesto
Ok, so I get that there is more than one way to cook a scallop, but who are we kidding to deny that there is quite simply one BEST way to cook a scallop. Cast iron my friend. Cast-Iron. Nothing gets that perfect sear on a scallop quite the same way. You may notice I cook with cast iron quite a bit, but when it’s needed it’s needed, and nothing can beat it when you have the right recipe. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is like a fine wine, it only gets better with age. It should have memories and stories attached to it, bring a smile to your face every time you have a reason to pull it from the cabinet. My dad gave me mine, it has already been on so many road trips and camping adventures with me that I would be truly upset if something were to happen to it. It may sound really silly, but when you know, you know, and it is then that your cast iron skillet will also come to the forefront of your ass-kicking kitchen team. It may even make you lean towards recipes in which you get to use it. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my grill and I love being outside when the weather is nice to get my grill on, but scallops, steaks, burgers, chicken; any hard sear you seek, this is the tool you need.
Pan Seared Scallops with Whole-Wheat Pasta
8 diver sea scallops
½ a bag (or box) of whole-wheat pasta (I like to use cappellini or angel hair)
1 15-ounce container of cherub tomatoes (grape or cherry would be fine)
zest of 1 lemon
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon of butter
salt & pepper
1 cup of reserved pasta cooking water
½ cup toasted pine nuts
1 bunch basil
1 whole clove garlic
½ cup grated fresh parmesan
salt & pepper
Pan seared scallops with whole-wheat pasta and fresh pesto
For the pesto, put the pine nuts, garlic, and basil in a food processor and pulse until everything is pretty uniform in size. Add some fresh cracked pepper and the parmesan cheese, then pulse while adding a steady stream of olive oil, until you get a smooth consistency (don’t add so much oil that it looks watery, between ¼ to ½ a cup of olive oil should be good). Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste. A handful of fresh parsley is great as well if you have it, I just didn’t happen to on this day.
Meanwhile, in a fairly large skillet (you will need to fit the pasta in later) heat the lemon zest and thyme in a drizzle of olive oil over low heat. Add the cherub tomatoes, some salt and pepper, and cook over a low heat for 20 minutes, just until the tomatoes are about to pop open. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, then add a handful of salt; this may sound crazy but trust me, any reputable chef would tell you to do the same thing. I think it’s Mario Batali who advises that the pasta water should “taste like the ocean” or something like that. Cook the pasta according to the directions to just under AL DENTE, we are going to finish the pasta in the sauce so don’t overdo it here. Lightly strain (water still hanging on the pasta is a good thing for this dish) and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
Add the pasta to the pan with the cherub tomatoes and place a few heaping spoonful’s of the pesto on top. Start to move everything around and begin to add a little bit of the pasta water until a nice sauce starts to form. The amount of water you will need to use will vary depending on how much juice your tomatoes give off, so take your time and go bit by bit until you are happy with consistency. Bring up to a medium-low heat and let everything get nice and happy together. You may need to add a little more water as the pasta finishes cooking because it will absorb some of the sauce (a huge reason to finish cooking your pasta in the sauce from here on out).
Now, onto the shining star(s). Rinse your scallops in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Make sure they are really dry because this is step one in getting that perfect sear. Salt and pepper both sides of the scallops liberally, that would be step two. Step three, bring a cast iron skillet up to a high heat with a healthy drizzle of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. When it is hot, and I mean hot, add your scallops. Cook 2-3 minutes per side, depending on their size. Only flip those suckers once and don’t fiddle around with them when they’re cooking; trust.
Lay out the gorgeous whole wheat pasta in its delicious pesto sauce onto a plate and place your beautiful scallops on top. I like to add a drop of pesto on top of each scallop and place a basil flower or leaf in the middle of it all. Impress your loved one with restaurant quality (or better then restaurant quality) seared scallops and enjoy.