Scallop Pasta with Tomatoes and Spinach in a Lemon Garlic Butter Sauce is an impressive, restaurant-quality meal that you can easily make at home! It takes only 30 minutes and requires simple ingredients and minimal prep. The scallops are pan-seared until golden brown crust forms and have a perfect tender and moist texture.
Scallop pasta - a 30-minute restaurant-quality gourmet meal
Scallop pasta is one of those recipes that take only 30 minutes to make yet it looks fancy and presentable like a gourmet entree from a high-end restaurant. This home-cooked meal features fresh and colorful ingredients: tomatoes, spinach, garlic, olives, capers, and fresh herbs. I pan-seared the scallops to a beautiful golden crust and then nestled them among fettuccine pasta smothered with fresh vegetables in a delicious lemon garlic butter sauce. This 30-minute dinner is perfect for a busy family weekday or date night. It definitely became a family favorite and a popular main course among my family and friends. For more scallop pasta inspiration, you might want to try creamy scallop pasta with mozzarella sauce or delicious scallop spaghetti in white wine sauce with capers.
Ingredients you need
- Scallops. I used a larger kind, such as sea scallops as opposed to bay scallops. I recommend using the largest scallops you can find in your local grocery store. Larger scallops are much easier to sear.
- Pasta. You can use any kind you like. I used longer pasta - fettuccine. My other favorite types of pasta for this kind of recipe are spaghetti, bucatini, angel hair pasta, and linguine.
- Olive oil. Use refined and lighter cooking olive oil with a higher smoking point as you will be searing scallops on high heat. Do not use extra virgin olive oil with a low smoking point. You can also use other cooking oils, such as canola oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil.
- Butter. I added a small amount of salted butter only at the very end, on low heat, to create a light garlic butter sauce. I did not use butter for searing the scallops.
- Garlic. I love using generous amounts of garlic (5 large cloves minced in this recipe). The garlic really mellows down in flavor when cooked, and it definitely adds a ton of flavor to this scallop pasta.
- Lemon juice. I recommend using freshly squeezed lemon juice (about half a lemon) for the bright flavor!
- Tomatoes. I used grape (or cherry) tomatoes of 2 colors. They make a beautiful presentation. You can certainly use regular tomatoes, too.
- Spinach. I used fresh spinach that I wilted directly in the same pan as the rest of the ingredients.
- Olives. Use pitted kalamata and green olives.
- Capers add salty and briny flavor + create a beautiful presentation.
- Fresh herbs such as thyme add a pop of freshness to the scallop pasta!
- Red pepper flakes add a little bit of heat.
Scallop Pasta with Tomatoes and Spinach in a Lemon Garlic Butter Sauce
- 12 oz pasta fettuccine or other long pasta
- 1.5 lb scallops
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions. Drain.
- Proceed with the rest of the recipe while you wait for the water to boil and while the pasta cooks.
How to sear scallops
- If using frozen scallops, make sure the scallops are thawed completely. Blot each scallop with paper towels to remove extra water. It's best to sear scallops after they've been out of the fridge for 30 minutes (to bring them closer to room temperature).
- Season scallops with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a large 12-inch skillet on high heat until it shimmers without smoking.
- Add scallops without overcrowding the pan.
- Sear on one side for about 3 or 4 minutes until a golden crust forms on the bottom of the scallops. Don't move the scallops around the pan.
- Flip the scallops to the other side and cook for 2 or 3 more minutes.
- Remove from heat and transfer the scallops to the plate immediately. Don't allow the scallops to rest in the hot skillet, off heat. That will make them steam and lose their crust.
Make the sauce and assemble
- To the same, now empty, skillet add minced garlic, half of the cherry tomatoes (saving the other half of tomatoes for later), and 1 tablespoon of capers. Cook on medium heat, stirring, for 4 minutes.
- Add fresh spinach, and cook for a couple of minutes on medium heat until spinach wilts.
- Add the remaining half of the tomatoes.
- Add sliced olives.
- Add cooked drained pasta and butter.
- Squeeze lemon juice over pasta and stir.
- Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Top with cooked scallops. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of capers over the scallop pasta. Top with fresh thyme. Season with freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes.
The nutritional information on this website is only an estimate and is provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed. It should not be used as a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
What to serve with it
I recommend serving a crusty slice of Italian bread (or olive bread) alongside the scallop pasta paired with a simple salad. Here are some suggestions:
- Arugula Salad with Lemon Zest, Pine Nuts, Parmesan, and Balsamic Dressing
- Apple Spinach Salad with Maple-Lime Mustard Dressing
- Greek Salad
- Simple Spinach Salad
Other scallop recipes you might like
- Creamy Mozzarella Scallop Pasta
- Seared Scallops with Creamy Lemon-Caper Sauce
- Bacon Scallops with Lemon Butter Sauce
- Scallop Spaghetti in Creamy White Wine Butter Garlic Sauce with Capers
How to sear scallops to perfection
- Thaw completely. If using frozen scallops, make sure the scallops are thawed completely. I thaw them overnight in the refrigerator.
- Pat them dry. Blot each scallop with paper towels to remove extra water.
- Bring scallops to room temperature before cooking, by allowing them to sit on a plate on the counter for 30 minutes before cooking.
- Use high heat. Heat a large skillet on high heat for about 2 minutes, then add cooking oil and once it shimmers, add the scallops.
- Do not overcrowd. When searing scallops make sure there is enough space between all of them, do not overcrowd the pan. If scallops are too close to one another, they will steam instead of being seared.
- Use a large skillet. This will give you more surface for searing more scallops. Sear the scallops for about 4 minutes per side until a nice golden color. Don't move the scallops around the pan. This allows the golden crust to form and seal the juices. The scallops are tender and moist.
- Remove cooked scallops from the heat and transfer them to the plate immediately. Don't let the scallops sit in the hot skillet, off heat, because they will start to steam, lose their crust and harden up.
Best scallops to use for pasta
- Use sea scallops. They are big size scallops that are usually about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. Because of their large size, sea scallops are easy to sear. Using them will make it easy to get that nice golden crust on your scallops.
- Bay scallops are usually small, you can use them, but bigger scallops are definitely my preference!
How to thaw frozen scallops
- Thaw frozen scallops in the fridge overnight.
- Do not use a microwave oven. Don't thaw on the kitchen counter.
- After thawing and right before cooking, pat dry scallops with paper towels.
Is it best to use frozen or thawed scallops?
I found that it doesn't matter. If you find fresh scallops - it's great, they are delicious! But I've used frozen scallops so many times and they taste so good, I now almost always use frozen ones. Just be sure to thaw them properly.
Substitutions, variations, and add-ins
- Scallops or shrimp will both work great in this recipe. You can even use cooked or grilled lobster tail meat here.
- Pasta. I recommend any type of pasta with long strands, such as spaghetti, fettuccine, pappardelle, or linguine pasta. But, really, you can use any kind of pasta you like - it would work just fine!
- Veggies. Add sliced bell peppers, mushrooms, artichokes, or sun-dried tomatoes to the scallop pasta.
- Make this gluten-free by using gluten-free pasta.
- Add cheese. I recommend any of these cheeses: Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, or Asiago.
- Add cream. Just a splash of heavy cream is enough.