My biggest must-have when it comes to warm weather dinners is a combination of fresh flavors & satisfying textures. This Seared Scallop Pesto Pasta strikes that balance perfectly. Comforting, carbolicious pasta is tossed into pesto sauce & topped with perfectly seared scallops. The rich, buttery texture of scallops is balanced by the bright + bold herbaceous flavors of summer pesto. It’s pure warm weather dinner magic!
Needless to say, Seared Scallop Pesto Pasta is one of my favorite pasta dishes of all time. It’s very much inspired by one of the best-selling pasta dishes at the Italian restaurant I worked at out of college. I’ve added a few of my own twists, like my favorite kale pesto & some toasted pine nuts, it’s one of those dishes that’s really all about choosing simple, high-quality ingredients & letting them shine. The heart of Italian cooking, to a T!
Scallop Pesto Pasta Recipe Highlights:
This scallop pesto pasta recipe is…
- FRESH & SATISFYING. It strikes the perfect balance between bright & herbaceous but warm & comforting too. Perfect for a warm weather dinner!
- EASY YET IMPRESSIVE. At first glance, this scallops and pasta recipe seems super fancy but it couldn’t be easier to throw together, taking less than 30 minutes, start-to-finish!
- A WARM WEATHER GO-TO. A restaurant-quality meal, perfect for an elevated weeknight dinner or a more special occasion like date night, girls night, or spring & summer entertaining!
The ultimate warm weather pasta, indeed! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Seared Scallop Pesto Pasta recipe, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!
Seared Scallops Pasta Key Ingredients:
While it delivers major impressive vibes, this scallop pesto pasta is actually very simple to make. It all starts with a lineup of simple yet flavor-packed ingredients.
You will need…
- Scallops – Of course! This scallop pesto pasta recipe is written specifically with jumbo sea scallops in mind, about U/15 – U/20. If you’re new to cooking with scallops, head over to this Scallops 101 post to learn more. My go-to scallops are the Specially Selected Jumbo Scallops, available at ALDI. They are wild-caught, certified sustainable, & individually frozen, which helps protect the integrity & flavor of delicate scallops. You’ll always find them in my freezer! If you can’t get your hands on scallops, feel free to swap with shrimp or any other shellfish you like.
- Pasta of choice – The best pasta dishes start with good pasta! Choose whatever you like! I love the satisfying chewy texture of bucatini (a long, hollow noodle), so that’s what I always opt for. This scallop pasta would be equally good with fettuccine or spaghetti. If you prefer short pasta, pick something with lots of curls & twirls, like fusilli or cavatappi.
- Pesto – Bright & herbaceous, the perfect complement for buttery scallops. Whether store-bought or homemade, use your favorite. At the PWWB House, that’s this Damn Good Kale Pesto, which is a 10-minute basil pesto made with loads of kale, walnuts, & parmesan. (All of the best things in life!)
- Pine nuts – Rich & buttery, adding the perfect little pop of texture in every bite!
- Roasted red peppers – Which add a little sweet, roasty-toasty goodness to every bite. Depending on the time of year, I sub them out with my favorite roasted cherry tomatoes (pictured), which have similar sweet acidity. Either works great here!
Pesto Scallops Pasta starts with…Pesto!
This seared scallop pasta dish begins by boiling some pasta, then tossing it with bright & herbaceous pesto sauce. Pretty straight-forward, right?
The best pesto to for pesto scallops ⇢You can use whatever pesto you love most for this scallop pesto pasta recipe – store-bought or homemade. My forever go-to pesto recipe is my Damn Good Kale Pesto. The base is a simple Genovese-style basil pesto, with a couple of hearty additions, like loads of kale & walnuts. You’ll always find it in my fridge, especially during the warm months. It takes bout 10 minutes to throw together & pairs beautifully with seared scallops.
A few friendly reminders for boiling pasta:
- Boil in generously salted water! – This is the only opportunity you have to season the pasta itself! Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add a generous amount of salt, then add the pasta.
- Do not add oil to the pasta water! – Oil coats the surface of the pasta, which prevents the kale pesto sauce from clinging to it nicely in your final dish. Skip the oil…instead, stir your pasta every few minutes as it cooks to prevent sticking.
- Do not rinse hot pasta! – Once the pasta is cooked, strain it but refrain rinse with cold (or hot!) water. Rinsing will shock the pasta & wash the starchy goodness off the surface of the pasta, both of which prevent the pasta from absorbing & clinging to the pesto pasta sauce.
Perfectly seared scallops…here’s what you need to know!
The main component of this seared scallops pasta recipe is, of course, the seared scallops! If you’ve never tried it before, prepping seared scallops at home can be pretty intimidating. But – & there’s a major BUT here! – searing scallops is actually quite simple. It takes less than 10 minutes to cook up a batch of gorgeously seared scallops, start-to-finish!
How to sear scallops for scallop pesto pasta:
- Preheat oil. Add avocado oil (or another neutral oil with a high smoke-point) to a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. The pan needs to be roaring hot, such that the oil is nearly smoking, so give it a couple minutes to preheat.
- Prep the scallops. Using paper towel, pat the scallops completely dry, then season generously with salt & pepper. Moisture is the natural enemy to creating a good, hard sear, so it’s important that the scallops are as dry as possible.
- Sear the scallops. Once the oil is hot, add the scallops to the pan & cook for 2-3 minutes per side. Again, since we’re looking for a gorgeous, hard sear, you want to refrain from disrupting the scallops much as they cook, but you can give the pan a gentle shake every 30 seconds or so to make sure the entire surface area of the scallop comes into contact with the hot pan.
With a little practice, you’ll make gorgeously golden & crusty seared scallops every single time, perfect for placing atop pasta. If you’re still unsure & would like some more help, had over to this How to Sear Scallops post, which walks through everything you need to know!
Bringing it all together…
With your pesto pasta tossed together & your scallops beautifully seared, all that’s left to do is assemble the scallop pesto pasta. Pretty easy!
Assembly ⇢ Pile the pesto pasta on a serving platter or into your favorite pasta bowls. Top with your beautifully seared scallops & roasted red peppers. Finish with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts for texture, lemon zest for brightness, & grated parmesan (bc…duh! 😉). Optional swap: If you really want to take this scallop pesto pasta completely over the top, swap the roasted red pepper with slow roasted cherry tomatoes. They’re sweet, tart, rich in flavor, & add an extra-special touch to these pesto scallops.
Slow roasted cherry tomatoes ⇢ Halve 2 pounds cherry tomatoes. Place them, cut side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Top with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 12-14 sprigs fresh thyme & 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Slow roast at 250 degrees F for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, or until dehydrated as desired. I like to set a time & check them every 60 minutes or so! Check out the full recipe here.
Serving suggestions ⇢ Serve your scallop pesto pasta with crusty Italian bread & your dry white wine of choice. I LOVE Soave, which is an Italian white wine similar to unoaked chardonnay. It pairs beautifully with seafood!
I can’t wait for you to try this light + bright Seared Scallop Pesto Pasta! If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡
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Easy But Impressive Meals
The ultimate bright & fresh scallop pasta! Herbaceous pesto pasta topped with perfectly seared sea scallops, roasted red peppers (or cherry tomatoes!), & toasted pine nuts. This seared scallop pesto pasta recipe is the perfect warm weather dinner – great for for weeknight cooking, date night, girls’ night, or any other spring & summer special occasions.
- 12 ounces pasta of choice, bucatini pictured
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 1/2 tablespoons avocado oil
- 1 1/2 pounds jumbo sea scallops (U/20-30), rinsed & prepped (see Recipe Notes)
- 1/2 cup pesto, such as homemade kale pesto
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: 14 ounces roasted red peppers (strained & roughly chopped) OR slow roasted cherry tomatoes, lemon zest, crushed red pepper flakes, sliced fresh basil, grated parmesan, etc.
Prep note: Once you begin cooking, this scallop pesto pasta comes together very quickly! I suggest starting by getting all of the chopping, measuring & other prep odds & ends out of the way so cooking is a smooth process: chop the red peppers, prep the scallops (see Recipe Notes), etc. Place everything within an arm’s reach from the stovetop.
- Boil the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, generously salt the water. Add the pasta and cook to al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup starchy pasta water before straining the pasta. Set aside.
- Toast pine nuts: Place the pine nuts in a dry, large nonstick skillet or stainless steel skillet over medium heat. Cook 2-3 minutes, tossing frequently, until golden brown & toasted. Transfer to a plate & set aside. Carefully use a paper towel to wipe any residue from the skillet. Set back over medium-high heat.
- Sear the scallops: Add the avocado oil to the same large nonstick skillet or stainless steel skillet used to toast the pine nuts. Season the scallops generously with kosher salt, about 1 teaspoon per pound. If desired, season with cracked black pepper. If desired, season with cracked black pepper. Once the oil is hot, sear the the scallops. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, carefully transfer the scallops to the skillet. Cook, giving the pan a gentle shake every so often, for 2-3 minutes, until a deep golden crust has formed on bottom of the scallops. Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes more, until the scallops are opaque & cooked through. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Repeat with any remaining scallops.
- Assemble the pasta. Transfer the pasta back into the pot used to boil it. Add the pesto & toss to combine. While tossing, slowly add in the reserved starchy pasta water until the desired consistency is reached.
- Serve: Transfer the pesto pasta to serving dish. Top with scallops, roasted red peppers/cherry tomatoes, & toasted pine nuts, lemon zest, crushed red pepper flake, thinly sliced fresh basil, grated parmesan, etc., as desired. Enjoy!
- Scallops 101: To learn more about cooking scallops, be sure to check out this How to Sear Scallops post, which includes all kinds of information about different types of scallops & what to look for when you’re shopping. A couple of quick notes for this seared scallops pasta recipe:
- “U” designation: This recipe is written specifically with jumbo sea scallops in mind, about U/15 – U/20. The “U” designation is a measure of size, indicating how many individual pieces make a pound. The smaller the U designation, the larger the scallops & vice versa (i.e. U/10 sea scallops are larger than U/30 sea scallops because only 10 individual scallops make up 1 pound vs 30).
- How to prep scallops for searing: Remove the scallops from their packaging & quickly rinse under cold water. Check each scallop for its side muscle (i.e. the muscle that attached the scallop to its shell) – if present, it will look like a small, rectangular tag right along the side of the scallop, with its fibers running opposite the fibers in the scallop itself. Use your fingers to gently tear it away. Transfer the cleaned scallops to a paper towel-lined plate. Gently press a second piece of paper towel over top to remove as much excess moisture as possible. Proceed with searing, as described in Step 4 of the Recipe Directions, above.
Keywords: scallop pesto pasta, seared scallops pasta, easy, weeknight recipe, 30-minute recipe, pescatarian, kale pesto, date night, girls night, spring, summer
Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.