If you love seafood and are looking for simple and delicious ways to cook it at home, this recipe for seared scallops over angel hair pasta is a good place to start. The ingredients come together with a delicious white wine butter sauce that blends perfectly with the sweet, delicate flavor of the scallops.
The delicate texture of angel hair pasta makes it one of our favorite varieties and the perfect choice for tossing with a buttery white wine sauce like the one in this recipe. The finished dish is light yet elegant, and because scallops always seem like a treat to us, we think it’s special enough to make for a date night at home. That’s why we’ve written the recipe for two servings, but it can easily be doubled.
In addition to pantry staples like butter, garlic, flour, salt, and pepper, you’ll need the following essential ingredients:
- Sea scallops: Try to find sea scallops marked as “dry” or “dry pack.” This means they have not been soaked in the brine solution many processors use to extend shelf life and keep them from losing their natural moisture. If you can’t find dry scallops, you can still use the “wet” variety for this dish, but they won’t be as easy to sear.
- Angel hair pasta: The buttery white wine sauce in this dish clings beautifully to the fine strands of angel hair pasta, ensuring a forkful of flavor with every bite. Thin spaghetti could be substituted.
- Fresh spinach: Serving the pasta and scallops atop a bed of sautéed fresh spinach adds both flavor and nutrition to this dish. You could opt to serve it on the side or omit it entirely if you choose.
- Grape or cherry tomatoes: Halved and added to the white wine butter sauce to wilt, grape (or cherry) tomatoes add a subtle acidity and pop of color to this dish.
- Dry white wine (or chicken broth): When adding wine to this sauce, use a light, dry variety like Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Avoid anything labeled as “cooking wine.” If you prefer an alcohol-free version, use low-sodium chicken broth.
How to Make Scallops and Pasta
Cook the spinach: Working in batches, sauté the spinach in a little oil until wilted, then set it aside until you’re ready to plate. While the spinach is cooking, put a pot of salted water on to boil.
Make the sauce: Start the sauce by sautéing a few cloves of garlic in butter, then whisk in some flour and gradually add white wine. Cook the sauce until thickened and smooth. Add the grape tomatoes and cook just enough to soften them. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and wipe out the pan for cooking the scallops, then add the angel hair to the boiling water.
Sear the scallops: Melt butter in the frying pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the scallops, one at a time, in a clockwise pattern. (By adding the scallops to the pan individually, you’ll know the order in which to turn them so they cook evenly and to just the right doneness. Once the scallops are cooked (about 3 minutes total), remove the pan from the heat and tend to the pasta.
Finish the dish: Drain the angel hair, reserving a little of the cooking water. Combine the pasta with the white wine butter sauce, adding a little of the reserved liquid as needed. Finish the dish by plating individual servings of spinach and topping each with a portion of angel hair and tomatoes. Add the scallops. Spoon the buttery pan juices over the top, and serve immediately.
Tips for Success
- Have all your ingredients measured and close at hand, as timing is essential to the success of this dish.
- Take the scallops out of the refrigerator 10 minutes before you plan to start cooking. Arrange them in a single layer on a plate, and blot gently with a paper towel.
- Choose a frying pan large enough to accommodate all the scallops in a single layer with at least 1/2-inch between them, and set it on the stove over medium-high heat.
- As soon as your butter starts to sizzle, transfer the scallops to the pan, one at a time. We always add them in a clockwise pattern, starting at the 12-o’clock position. That way we know which scallops need to be turned first.
- Depending on size and thickness, your scallops should need no more than 1-1/2 to 2 minutes per side to cook. That amount of time should produce a golden crust on the outside and a creamy, slightly translucent center.
Once you’ve mastered perfectly cooked scallops, pair them with different, globally inspired flavors. Check out our easy, Spanish-style recipe that pairs scallops with roasted red pepper sauce and our Asian-inspired Scallops in Tomato-Lime Butter (served over pearl couscous).
What to Serve with Scallops and Pasta
This recipe already contains all the elements of a balanced meal, but a salad of romaine lettuce tossed with white wine vinaigrette and topped with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan is a nice side dish option. As for a wine pairing, try Pinot Grigio or another Italian white wine like Soave or Orvieto.
Scallops and Pasta with White Wine Butter
- 4 oz angel hair pasta
- 3/4 lb dry sea scallops, see notes below
- Vegetable oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 10 ounces fresh spinach
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 3/4 cup dry white wine, or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
Prep the scallops and cook the spinach:
- Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels and arrange them in a single layer on a plate or cutting board. Brush both sides with a little oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with a small amount of oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add a few handfuls of spinach at a time and toss continually with a pair of tongs until wilted. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Make the sauce:
- Wipe out the pan and melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until soft and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes (do not brown).
- Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring often, until golden, 1-1/2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the wine and cook until smooth and blended, 1 to 2 minutes more.
- Add the tomatoes, season with a little salt and pepper, and cook until softened and slightly wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the sauce mixture to a bowl, set aside, and wipe the pan clean to cook the scallops.
Sear the scallops:
- Add the angel hair to the boiling water, and as soon as it returns to a boil, start cooking the scallops. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat, swirl the pan to coat, and add the scallops one at a time in a clockwise pattern.
- Cook until they release from the pan with ease, about 1-1/2 minutes. Use tongs to turn the scallops in the order you added them to the pan, and cook for another 1 to 1-1/2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.
Finish the dish:
- Drain the angel hair, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pan, add the white wine butter sauce with tomatoes, and toss to combine. If needed, add the reserved pasta water in 1-tablespoon increments until the sauce is evenly distributed (don't overdo it).
- To serve, divide the spinach between two serving plates, top each with a portion of pasta and tomatoes, then add the scallops. Spoon the remaining pan juices over the top and serve immediately.