While most folks headed for the beach or the mountains this summer, we shot past the Blue Ridge to the unlikely tourist destination of Columbus, Ohio. A book conference lures us there every other summer, and we’ve gotten to know this unexpectedly appealing city well enough to have some regular haunts. Our favorite dinner spot is one of the city’s finest restaurants, Barcelona, located, ironically, in a historic district called Germantown.
Though just about everything on Barcelona’s menu tempts me, I always choose vieiras, which is without doubt the best scallop dish I’ve ever tasted. The combination of scallops, bacon, fresh shiitake mushrooms, dates and tiny lima beans served in a creamy sauce is absolutely perfect. So perfect, I would never deign to try it at home.
But when I got back to Chapel Hill, I still craved scallops and wondered why I so rarely buy them. Ah yes … the price! Though they are once more plentiful in Atlantic waters, those fat, luscious sea scallops still cost over $20 per pound.
I challenged myself to come up with a recipe that used no more than a half-pound of scallops for two servings. Bacon, the bivalve’s soulmate, was essential, and so was a creamy sauce to carry the flavors. Pasta would make it a one-dish meal to be served with only a green salad. And it had to be easy enough for me to make without a lot of fuss.
So I did what we all do … Googled ‘scallops and bacon.’ Dozens of recipes popped up, of course, from scallops for idiots to excessively fancy chefs’ creations.
The simplest recipes, using only scallops, bacon and cream, may be good, but I wanted more complex flavors: the aromatic quality of the onion family, a hint of acidity from tomatoes and wine, the brightness of lemon peel, the umami of fish stock and a hint of chili heat. I added these layers of flavor with items I had on hand. It worked! My very first attempt was almost as delicious as Barcelona’s dish. This will be my new go-to scallop recipe. If good sea scallops aren’t available, use bay scallops. And this dish would be almost, but not quite, as tasty with shrimp.
Pasta with Scallops and Bacon
Makes two generous servings
1/3 lb. dry linguini or spaghetti 3-4 slices bacon
1⁄2 pound sea scallops
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
3 Tbsp. minced shallot or sweet onion
1⁄4 cup white wine or white dry vermouth
1⁄2 cup seafood stock*
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1 tomato, chopped, or 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
Pinch of red pepper flakes (or dash of Tabasco)
1⁄2 tsp. grated lemon rind
1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the pasta according to package directions and drain in a colander.
In a medium saute pan, cook the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Remove from heat and roughly chop it. Set aside, keeping the bacon grease in the pan.
If scallops are large, cut in half horizontally. Season them with salt and pepper and pan sear them in the hot bacon fat for only about 11⁄2 to 2 minutes per side and set aside with the bacon.
Drain the bacon fat from the pan and add the olive oil. Add garlic and shallot or onion. Cook for a minute or so to soften the vegetables.
Add the white wine and stock and simmer quickly for a few minutes until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the cream and simmer for an additional 2 minutes.
Add the bacon, scallops, tomato, red pepper (or Tabasco) and lemon rind to the sauce and adjust seasonings with more salt and pepper, if needed. Simmer for a minute or two before adding the pasta and Parmesan cheese.
Toss together the pasta and sauce before serving.
*‘Better than Bouillon’ Fish Base makes a serviceable quick fish stock and keeps forever in the fridge. It’s handy for recipes that use just a small amount of stock.