Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Quick and Easy: Spaghetti with Tuna-Tomato Sauce and Seared Scallops

I’m back from a long, fun weekend in New York City. We did tons of walking, including across the Brooklyn Bridge on a gorgeous sunny afternoon (needed to burn off those dim sum calories!). We also saw a well done exhibit at the Whitney museum on Alexander Calder, which I’d highly recommend.

I won’t bore you with more details, except for my three favorite food things on the trip:
1) duck prosciutto, and espresso-flavored Amber beer at Vintage Irving (plus a fantastic firm goat cheese). Sorry, that was 3 already.
2) Lamb with pita-yogurt sauce at Limon, the best Turkish restaurant ever (that it’s tiny, quiet and BYOB makes it even better).
3) Bacon-Caramel Pumpkin cupcake at Batch (and the lemon-yuzu was great too).
Oops, make that 4: fried baby artichokes at Morandi. No batter, no breadcrumbs, just lemon juice.

Now, it’s time to cook a few healthy meals after all that eating out, and gear up for Thanksgiving. This recipe accomplishes the first goal. It's so easy. Considering how tasty it is, the easiness defies logic. I was craving that fishy, salty je ne sais quoi flavor you get when you mash a few canned anchovies into your garlic when starting a sauce—the way you do for spaghetti Puttanesca. You’d never know it was anchovies, but the depth of flavor is wonderful.

Anyway, I didn’t want Puttanesca; I wanted something simpler. Then I though of just adding good, olive-oil packed tuna to prepared tomato sauce. I got exactly what I was hoping for. I enhanced the plain sauce with sautéed garlic, and added my tuna. It was the perfect amount of sauce to thoroughly coat the spaghetti without making a pool of watery red. Fresh flat-leaf parsley is mandatory for some herbal freshness, and that’s it.

You could eat the pasta just like that, but I latched onto the seafood theme and put fat, seared scallops on top. I love cooking scallops now that I know the secret to a good, golden sear: completely dry scallops (drain them, use a paper towel, do whatever it takes!) and plenty of oil in the pan. Unfortunately, you can't get a great look at the sear in that photo--Mike went crazy with the cheese! Restaurants probably use ample butter and/or oil to get that beautiful caramelization, but you really only need a couple tablespoons of fat unless you pan is enormous.

Now, I’m trying to decide what kind of Thanksgiving side dishes I want to try this weekend. Are you breaking with hallowed tradition and trying a new recipe this year? Is there something new that intrigues you? Let me know, and I’ll see if I can possibly work it in. I haven’t cracked open most of the November issues of all the food magazines, so I’m in for some fun research!

Spaghetti with Tuna-Tomato Sauce and Seared Scallops

The tuna makes this pasta a viable meal on its own, but it is also a really nice base for scallops, shrimp or steamed mussels. If the sea scallops at the market are really huge, you only need 3 per person; otherwise buy the greater amount. I can’t stress enough the two keys to golden, caramelized scallops: making sure they are completely dry and using enough fat in the pan. The sauce takes about 2 minutes to put together after you drain the pasta, so finish the scallops just before it’s time to drain the spaghetti. You can cover them with foil to keep warm, if you like.

Serves 4

For spaghetti:
3/4 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
1 Tbs. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1-8oz. can tomato sauce
1-5oz. can tuna in olive oil, gently drained
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For scallops:
2 Tbs. olive oil
12 to 16 fresh sea scallops, thoroughly patted dry with paper towels
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside. Reduce heat to low and add the oil to the same pot you cooked the spaghetti in. Add the garlic and cook until golden, stirring constantly. Add the tomato sauce and flake the tuna into the pot. Add the hot spaghetti and stir until nicely coated with sauce. Remove from heat and season with pepper. Serve with a handful of parsley and grated cheese.

While pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large, heavy (to maintain even heat) skillet on medium-high. Season one side of scallops with salt and pepper and place in skillet, seasoned side down. Sprinkle more salt and pepper over the unseasoned side and cook without moving the scallops until deep golden brown. Turn, and cook opposite sides until color is deep golden brown and scallops are just barely cooked through. They can be slightly pinkish in the center, but over cooking makes them rubbery. You can slice one to check until you get the hang of it. Serve over spaghetti.


Susan from Food Blogga said...

This is one of my family's favorite dinners. In fact, I'm going to make something like it next week when my dad is here. It looks wonderful, Julie!

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie

I just want to know what kind of tomato sauce? those in a bottle like prego or del monte tomato sauce?


Julie said...

vfrois: Any kind that you like on pasta is fine. I'd use a simple jar of marinara or a can of plain tomato sauce.