Scallops and Asparagus
with Lemon Spaghettini
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I’m not sure that there’s any kitchen experience more satisfying than perfectly searing a scallop. The smell of the melted butter, the gorgeous char on the surface, the way that they release from the pan when they’re just right – and of course, the incredible taste. I didn’t grow up eating scallops, and when I did start to encounter them it was usually the teensy ones. But nothing compares to a big, fresh, sweet bay scallop. In fact I’m going to put myself out there and say that it might just be the best food to come out of the ocean. But the question is – what do you serve with the scallops? Too plain and it will seem like a dull afterthought. Too complex and it will compete or clash with the flavour of the scallops.
Scallops are by no means solely a spring food, but their mild-yet-distinctive flavour work really well with spring ingredients. I had a hankering to do something with lemon and asparagus, and I’m happy to say that the brightness and acidity paired perfectly with the buttery scallops. The asparagus provides a grassy-green vegetal component, while the lemon provides acidity and brightness. Both components play against the sweet and rich scallops perfectly – and of course, it’s all tied together (or twirled together) with a nice hit of carbs. Mmm, carbs.
I’ve had a lot to say about some of the dishes coming out of my kitchen lately, but this one kind of speaks for itself. This is honest, delicious food. Well, I suppose I can’t resist the urge to reiterate my earlier points about pasta, and how it doesn’t have to be drowned in cream – but I won’t say much more than that. Get some scallops and start making some asparagus ribbons.
This is one of those meals that isn’t really difficult, but isn’t exactly easy either. Searing scallops can be a bit difficult if you haven’t done it before, but there are a few keys to success. First and foremost, you want to work at the right temperature, and with plenty of butter in the pan. Too hot (or too little butter) and the scallops will char rather than sear. Too cool and the scallops will sort of sit and simmer in the butter without forming any of that beautiful brown crust. Second, you want to make sure that you use a combination of attentiveness and patience. You have to watch your scallops as they cook, but don’t move them until they’re ready. Once you start to see crispy brown edges and the cooked opaque section about 1/3 of the way up on the scallop, CAREFULLY try to move the scallop with a pair of tongs. If it doesn’t let go of the pan fairly easily, give it a bit more time. Once you do turn the scallop over, the opposite side will need a little less time to cook (the scallop is already warm). You want to remove the scallops from the pan while their centers are still slightly translucent. Ultimately you should have a sort of layered scallop: seared and brown on the very outsides, white and cooked immediately after that, then pale pink and slighty translucent in the ‘rare’ center.
The asparagus might seem a bit odd, but there’s method to the madness here. By cutting it into ribbons, it cooks very quickly, and you can twirl it up with the long spaghettini noodles. Short pieces of asparagus are much harder to grab up in a forkful of pasta, plus they don’t get coated with the cheesy lemony sauce as easily. You can cut the asparagus into ribbons using a mandoline (watch your fingers!) or with a vegetable peeler. I personally prefer to use the vegetable peeler as it’s a little less nerve-wracking. Try to get the asparagus ribbons fairly thin, and as uniform as possible. The tips do tend to break apart a little bit when sliced thinly, so you could consider removing them and saving them for a different recipe or sauteing them and serving them as-is along with this dish. If you really love pasta (I’m setting the bar pretty low on that one), save the asparagus tips to make linguine primavera and use the stalks to make this.
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Perfectly seared scallops are one of life's greatest seafood delights. Here, they're paired with lemon, asparagus, and pasta for a perfect spring treat.
- 250 g spaghettini
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed) (approximately two lemons)
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 45 g parmigiano-reggiano cheese (~1/4 cup, lightly packed) grated, plus extra to garnish
- 3 tbsp butter (45 g) separated into 2 and 1 tbsp portions.
- 300 g medium to large bay scallops
- 1 small bunch asparagus sliced into long, thin ribbons (see note)
- 1/4 cup white wine
- Italian parsley finely chopped, to garnish
- black pepper to garnish
- lemon zest to garnish
Set the scallops on a plate and allow them to come to room temperatures. Make sure to retain any of the liquid from the scallops that settles on the plate. You'll want to start making the asparagus ribbons at and start the pasta water at this point.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the spaghettini and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside, but do not rinse or cool.
Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil together in a bowl. Add the spaghettini back to a large pot, then add the lemon juice, olive oil, grated parmigiano-reggiano, and the smaller portion (1 tbsp) of butter. Stir to combine, making sure that the cheese melts from the heat of the pasta. Cover and set aside.
Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat for about 1 minute. The pan should be large enough to hold all of the scallops without crowding. Add the larger portion (2 tbsp) of butter to the pan and swirl around to let it melt and begin browning. Add the scallops to the pan carefully, making sure to give each one some space. Reduce the heat a little bit and sear until well- browned, then turn carefully and sear the other side. Cook the scallops until the center is still somewhat translucent (the actual time necessary will vary depending on the size of the scallops), then remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the asparagus ribbons, white wine, and any leftover liquid from the scallops to the pan. Saute until the asparagus is soft but still vibrant green; about 1 minute.
Add the contents of the pan to the spaghettini and carefully combine. Serve each portion of spaghettini garnished with chopped parsley, black pepper, lemon zest, and extra parmigiano-reggiano. Top each dish off with an individual portion of scallops and serve immediately.
Asparagus isn't served this way all that often, but it's a great way to incorporate it with long pasta. Using either a mandolin or a vegetable peeler, you want to carefully slice the asparagus the long way to make thin ribbons - think long noodles, but made of asparagus. Try to get them fairly thin, and as uniform as possible. The tips do tend to break apart a little bit when sliced thinly, so you could consider removing them and saving them for a different recipe or sauteing them and serving them as-is along with this dish.