You bet your bottom dollar we’re jumping straight into this seafood stunner.
STUNNER. Like, forget Valentine’s Day, it’s the best date-night-worthy dinner all year round. Or the best kind of self-love. Or just because it’s a Wednesday night and you want to treat yourself in the best way possible: with garlic, pasta, and buttery pan-seared scallops.
No matter the occasion, this creamy garlic pasta paired with beautiful pan-seared scallops is making waves.
A Million Reasons to Love It
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, then this recipe is for you:
- Do you always add 4+ extra garlic cloves in addition to whatever the recipe suggests?
- Will you likely add more garlic even though this recipe calls for 8 cloves?
- Do you live for quality pasta?
- Are your dreams made of garlic cream sauce?
- Do perfectly cooked seared scallops make your heart flutter?
- Have you been searching for the perfect dinner that’s impressive and elegant, yet easy to make and pretty quick on time?
- Do you love to eat delicious food?
Dare I keep going? It’s all of those things and more.
But also, you’ll love that it comes together in 20 minutes. Everything about it is SO perfect, so let’s get cooking.
What You’ll Need to Make Scallop Pasta and Garlic Sauce
The garlic! The sauce! The creaminess! The noodles! Buttery scallops that melt in your mouth and have a perfectly pan-seared golden brown sear exterior!
It’s true, and it all comes together with a few simple ingredients. As always, be sure to see the full recipe card below for amounts and details.
- Spaghetti noodles: you can also substitute any shape of noodles for this recipe, but something that you can twirl in the deliciously creamy sauce is best! Fettuccine or angel hair pasta would be your best second option. Also, using high-quality dried pasta is recommended.
- Sea Scallops: look for ‘dry scallops’ for the freshest flavor and for the best caramelization when pan-searing. Wet scallops are treated with a water solution to preserve them longer and can have a slight taste to them. Keep reading for more info on buying scallops.
- Garlic: a must for garlic pasta! I like to slice it in this recipe for delicious garlicky bites throughout. Just slice them thinly and they’ll have a buttery texture.
- Whole Milk or Half-and-Half: adds creaminess to the pasta sauce.
- Butter: oh yeah, this is the creaminess too. I recommend using unsalted butter so you can salt the sauce to your own preferred saltiness. If you have high-quality butter such as European butter, it’s totally going to level up this recipe!
- All-Purpose Flour: thickens the sauce by creating the roux.
- Parmesan Cheese: you can’t have creamy garlic pasta without parmesan, now can you? I like to use grated cheese or freshly shredded via microplane, because it melts well into the sauce.
What to Look for When Buying Scallops
- Sea Scallops: Make sure you’re purchasing jumbo sea scallops, you don’t want to use bay scallops as they are very small and typically used in soups and stews.
- Dry or Wet? Look for “dry” scallops if you can, as opposed to wet ones. This difference comes down to how the scallops are preserved.
- Wet scallops are preserved in a liquid and can sometimes have more of an aftertaste, and dry scallops are not treated with any solution. This means they’re also much better to pan-sear.
- Fresh or Frozen? You can use either. I tend to prefer fresh scallops, but with a few tips, you can use frozen just as easily!
How to Use Frozen Scallops
You need to thaw the scallops in advance before using them in this recipe, so it does require a little more thought and advance preparation.
For best results, thaw the scallops in the fridge overnight. Rinse before using.
Then, be sure to pat them dry using a paper towel before proceeding with the recipe.
If you forget to thaw them the night before (guilty! it happens to the best of us), you can thaw them the day of by placing the bag of scallops in a bowl of cold water for 20-30 minutes. Rinse them off before using, and again, pat dry.
With the scallops thawed (and patted dry – it’s really important!) you can proceed with the recipe as it is.
How to Make Creamy Garlic Pasta
The first thing to do is bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook the pasta. You won’t cook it to al dente though, you’ll cook it just under because the pasta will finish cooking to the perfect tenderness in the sauce.
By cooking it under the recommended cook time, it ensures that the pasta doesn’t become overcooked. While the noodles cook, start on the sauce.
Be sure to reserve 1 cup of pasta water before you drain the noodles!
Creamy Garlic Sauce
Our two key players (garlic and parmesan) showed up and brought their A-game to make the sauce.
- Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, then add the thinly sliced garlic cloves. There, they get all tender and delish. Be sure to stir and keep the heat somewhat low so the garlic doesn’t burn. Then add in some salt and red pepper flakes for flavor.
- Whisk in some flour to create a roux, and cook it down, being sure to continue whisking so it doesn’t burn. The flour helps our sauce thicken up.
- Deglaze the pan by pouring in vegetable stock (or white wine if you have it!).
- Then stir in the room temperature whole milk. Make sure it’s room temperature or lukewarm so that it doesn’t seize up or curdle.
- Toss the under al dente pasta into the sauce, adding the golden-ticket pasta water as needed for your desired consistency.
- Once it’s tossed a bit, add in the parmesan. Let it melt into the pasta and watch as it totally amps up our creaminess factor.
- Pan-Sear the scallops until they have a perfectly golden brown crust and top the pasta with them. Let’s get to that…
How to Get the Perfect Sear on the Scallops
What are pan-seared scallops? They are large sea scallops that are seared up in a skillet with loads of butter. The butter magically turns into brown butter and helps those luxurious scallops develop a deep golden brown exterior, creating beautiful caramelization and flavor.
Here are a few tips for making pan-seared scallops:
- First, pat the scallops dry and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Patting them dry is a must because if they are too wet, they will not brown.
- Make sure your pan is hot if you want to achieve that seared exterior. There is a fine balance between browning and burning the butter, so do be careful. The scallops should sizzle when you add them to the pan.
- When it’s time to flip the scallops, wiggle them a little, if they’re ready to flip, they will easily come up. If the scallops stick to the pan and you have to force it, wait for about 30 seconds and check again.
- When the scallops are golden brown on each side and translucent, remove them from the heat immediately. They cook quickly!
What to Serve with Scallop Pasta
This creamy garlic pasta can be enjoyed just as is, with yourself and a glass of chilled white wine.
It can be enjoyed with your honey for a romantic candle-lit dinner. Or, if we’re a little more realistic for a Friday night, with the glow of Netflix and the hottest new show starting.
But if you’re looking for actual side dishes to serve with this scallop pasta recipe, then I suggest one of these:
- Roasted broccolini – because broccoli and cream sauce hits differently.
- Green beans – any sauteed variety would be delicious!
- Brussels sprouts – this air fryer recipe makes a quick side, or try them sauteed.
- A light side salad would be a great starting point, too.
Want to skip the extra veggie prep but need some more greens? Wilt a handful of spinach into the pasta when you add the parmesan cheese.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you don’t eat seafood, you can absolutely just omit the scallops from this recipe and serve some roasted broccolini or a salad alongside it. Alternatively, you can saute mushrooms and them to the pasta, too. Or hey, just enjoy the pasta. It’s that good.
If you’re not into scallops specifically, you can use shrimp in their place. You can also prepare a chicken breast and slice it up and put it on top for a little fettuccine alfredo feel if you eat meat.
Absolutely! Whether you can’t get enough or you need to serve more hungry mouths, you can double this recipe.
You can use fettuccini, bucatini, or angel hair in place of the spaghetti in this recipe.
Yes! You can sautee mushrooms, add broccoli, or wilt in spinach or kale.
Did you make this recipe? Please leave a star rating and review in the form below. I appreciate your feedback, and it helps others, too!
Get the Recipe Creamy Garlic Pasta with Pan Seared Scallops
For approximately 2 servings:
- 6-8 ounces high-quality dried spaghetti or fettuccine noodles
- 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 6-8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Crushed red pepper, to taste
- 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ½ cup vegetable stock, or white wine
- ⅓ cup whole milk, room temperature
- ½ – 1 cup pasta water
- ½ cup grated parmesan, or freshly grated (finely)
- Parsley, to garnish, as desired
- 8 Sea Scallops*, pat dry
- Optional: squeeze of lemon or lemon zest
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta approximately 2 minutes less than the package directions state for al dente pasta. Be sure to reserve approximately 1 cup of pasta water. Drain and set aside.6-8 ounces high-quality dried spaghetti or fettuccine noodles
- While the pasta cooks, begin making the sauce and let the scallops come to room temperature. Pat scallops dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper on the tops and bottoms.8 Sea Scallops*
Garlic Cream Sauce
- Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add 3 tablespoons butter. Once the butter is melted, add the thinly sliced garlic cloves and let cook for 2-4 minutes until it becomes slightly tender, being careful to not burn them. Add salt, pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes as desired.6-8 garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Stir in the flour until combined completely and cook for an additional minute, continuing to stir so it doesn't burn.1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
- Whisk in the vegetable stock slowly until combined. Then, whisk in room temperature milk and bring to a low simmer to thicken slightly.½ cup vegetable stock, ⅓ cup whole milk
- Add the just-under al dente noodles to the sauce and stir to combine. Add the pasta water bit by bit and bring to a simmer on low, continuing to add additional pasta water as needed until your desired sauce consistency is reached (I usually add around 1/3-1/2 cup). Stir in parmesan cheese until melted and remove pasta from heat. Don't forget to taste test for salt levels!½ – 1 cup pasta water, ½ cup grated parmesan
- The scallops should have already been pat dry and sprinkled with salt and pepper. As the sauce finishes cooking, heat a smaller stainless steel skillet or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 TBSP butter and let melt.
- Once the butter is hot and slightly bubbly, add the prepared scallops "standing up" on the flat edge. Let cook for approximately 1-2 minutes (depending on their size) until a golden crust forms. Flip the scallops (they should easily come up, if not, cook a little longer) and cook for another 1-2 minutes until a golden crust forms and the inside is translucent. Remove from heat and top pasta with scallops.
- Optional: squeeze a lemon on top, or stir in lemon zest, for added brightness to the pasta. Garnish with fresh parsley as desired, and enjoy!
- Sea Scallops: look for ‘dry scallops’ for the freshest flavor and for the best caramelization when pan-searing. Wet scallops are treated with a water solution to preserve them longer and can have a slight taste to them.
- Frozen Scallops: if using frozen scallops, thaw them the night before in the fridge or according to package directions. Rinse and pat dry before using.
This recipe is part of our Date Night Recipes to Love roundup. Check it out!