I think most people would agree that Friday is the best of the seven days that we have to choose from, but there’s a little something that occurs every Friday, just before seven in the morning, that consistently and without fail continues to get my knickers in a twist.
That something is the weekly trash collection, and though normally something so benign, necessary, and actually helpful shouldn’t be a bother, I can never seem to remember that it’s collection day until I hear that big creaky trash truck turn down our back alley.
Inevitably, Friday morning at six-fifty-four in the AM, you’ll find me barreling out the back door barefooted and in my pajamas struggling to keep a weeks worth of trash bags from touching my legs while chasing the trash truck as it passes right by our empty barrels. At that point I’ll usually remember that it’s also the recycling pickup day, and I’ll have to sweet talk the busy trash team into holding up their whole operation just so I can dash back inside to retrieve our overflowing recycling bin.
What’s that you say? Why not just put the trash in the bins as we go? Or, at the very least, the night before? Well my friends, while in New York about the worst thing to happen to your trash would be a human dumpster-diver rummaging around in hopes that you threw anything out of actual value out with your banana peels and peach pits, here we have to worry that said dumpster diver will be big, brown, and furry, and have a knack for cracking open full garbage barrels as if they were Kinder Eggs.
That’s right - a bear will come and turn that whole alley upside down if you so much as think about putting your trash out a few minutes too early.
(Ahem…see this post for how I learned that lesson.)
And so there I was this morning, predictably, flagging down the garbage truck as it whizzed on by, because there is no worse way to start your Friday morning than knowing you have to look at last weekends late-night pizza box for another seven straight days.
However, today after described early morning spectacle, I paused to take a deep breath and remember that I had a Tupperware container full of this summery scallop pasta on hand ready and waiting to be eaten for lunch.
I started making this pasta four years ago, when we lived on the twenty-second floor of an apartment building in Greenwich Village. It was “our” first place, and cooking dinner together had just started to become a nightly habit that we were settling into nicely. Feeling a bit fancy one evening, I stopped into the fish market and picked up some fresh bay scallops. Into a big bowl of pasta they went, with a few farmer’s market tomatoes, some basil, and a bunch of grated up Parmesan cheese. We dug into our bowls silently and didn’t say a word until every last noodle was eaten – it was delicious, and from that moment forward that scallop pasta was always a top contender when we’d debate our favorite home-cooked meal.
Over these past few years I’ve tweaked it a bit, but it’s bones – scallops, summer tomatoes, fresh basil, and good Parmesan – have not wavered. I’ve gone from using the smaller bay scallops to buying the larger sea variety, and cutting them into quarters (though both varieties work well), and if I’m feeling extra fancy I fry them up in the rendered fat of some prosciutto or pancetta. Some fresh lemon zest really wakes up the seafood, and a bit of pasta cooking water helps to thicken up the light sauce.
It is seriously good, and I always make sure to make more than enough, to ensure that I’ll have a meal to look forward to the following day.
And – it’s the knowledge that today I have scallop pasta to look forward to this afternoon that helps my sanity to stay intact as the whole neighborhood bears witness to my bedhead-trash-truck-chasing antics.
Summer Scallop Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes, Leeks, and Proscuitto
Serves 2, with leftovers
This makes quite a bit of pasta for two people, but I love having some leftover to eat the next day (which I admittedly think tastes best cold while standing in front of the fridge!)
You can omit the prosciutto if you want to keep it seafood-only to no ill effects – simply saute the scallops in just olive oil.
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 large (or 2 small) leeks, cleaned and white and light green parts sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6-8 sea scallops, patted very dry, each scallop cut into 1/4′s & seasoned with salt
3 oz prosciutto, pancetta, or thick cut bacon, roughly chopped
1/2 lb whole wheat capellini (angel hair) pasta, plus additional for serving
zest of 1 lemon
12 leaves of basil, roughly torn
Prepare a large pot of well-salted water to boil your pasta (taste the water – it should be as salty as sea water – this is an important step to impart flavor into otherwise flavorless noodles).
Place two large skillets on your stovetop. In the first large skillet, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the sliced leeks, whole cherry tomatoes, and a good (three-finger) pinch of salt. Cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are wilted and translucent and the tomatoes are soft, about 10 minutes. Gently crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon to encourage their juices to spill out – their liquid will help to create a silky sauce. Add the garlic to the crushed tomato mixture, and cook over medium heat until the garlic is tender and has lost its ‘raw’ bite, about 4 minutes. Do not let the garlic burn or take on any color. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
While the sauce is cooking, pour just a bit of olive oil in the second skillet, and heat it over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chopped prosciutto (or bacon or pancetta) and fry it, tossing it frequently, until it is crisped up and browned. Remove the cooked prosciutto from the pan with a slotted spoon (leaving its rendered fat behind) and add it to the simmering tomato sauce.
The capellini and the scallops will take roughly the same amount of time to cook, so have your pot of water boiling when you are ready to cook your scallops. Drop your pasta into the boiling water, and at the same time, add your quartered scallops to the pan that you just cooked your prosciutto in. Do not disturb the scallops; distribute them evenly (and with space around each piece) in the pan, and let them sear on one side until they have a nice golden crust. Tossle them about, and let them sear on another side for a minute or so. After 3-4 minutes in the skillet, check a piece for doneness – it should be just barely opaque all the way through (I like to err on the side of undercooked vs overcooked for scallops). Remove the scallops from the pan using a slotted spoon, and add them to your warm tomato sauce.
Test your capellini for doneness – you want it just a bit al dente, which should take 3-4 minutes in boiling water (it cooks quickly because it is so skinny). Then, using tongs and working directly from the boiling water, lift the pasta out of the water and place it into the warm tomato sauce. (Alternately you can strain the pasta, but just be sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the pasta water). When all of the pasta is added, add in the cup of grated Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, torn basil leaves, and a bit of the hot pasta cooking water – I start with 1/2 cup and add more as needed. Stir the pasta together and test for seasoning and sauce consistency; I ended up adding a full cup of pasta water, and a good bit of salt and fresh cracked pepper.
Serve immediately, while still hot, with extra freshly grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling atop.