Seared Scallops on Sugar Snap Cacio e Pepe

seared scallops

There are certain culinary rules that people memorize like they’re gospel, even though they’re not really rules and those who adhere to them are doing it more out of fear than logic. Case in point: cheese and fish. “In Italy, you never put cheese on fish!” No less an authority than Lidia Bastianich has disproven this on her show where she explains traditions regarding fish and cheese have more to do with geography than gastronomy. (Don’t believe me? Here’s her recipe for a seafood gratin.) Generally, I never put cheese on fish because fish is so delicate. But every so often, if there’s seafood involved with a pasta, I may sprinkle on a little Parmesan. And thus this recipe for seared scallops with sugar snap cacio e pepe was born.

It’s Not Really a Cacio e Pepe

Since I’m already in trouble with the cheese and fish thing, I won’t fall on another sword: this isn’t a textbook cacio e pepe.

For that, I highly recommend this Mark Ladner recipe where you toast the peppercorns in a dry skillet, add pasta cooking water, then thicken it with butter before adding the pasta and then the cheese.

Here, I had some gorgeous sugar snap peas and after stringing them and cutting them in half on the diagonal, I sautéed them in olive oil with lots of garlic, then stopped the cooking with pasta water. To finish, I added a knob of butter, a bunch of black pepper, and a handful of grated Parmesan (off the heat). Just by itself, it was sublime. But I knew a way to make it even better.

Seared Scallops for Serious Scallop Searers

There’s only one way to sear a scallop and that’s this: don’t move it.


I’m not joking. Buy dry-packed scallops (they shouldn’t be sitting in liquid), pat them with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper. Then in a skillet wide enough to hold them all in a single layer, heat a layer of olive oil until very hot. Then carefully add your scallops and walk away. Go do a dish or two. Text your mother back. When you’ve walked away for at least a minute, come back and grab a spoon. If you can flip a scallop over with a spoon without having to tug, you’ve done a good job.

I mean, can you imagine more perfectly seared scallops than these? I can’t! On the other side, just cook until opaque (another 15 seconds or so). And that’s that.

Plate it Up, Heather

To serve, it’s as simple as this. Spoon the pasta into bowls, top the bowls with the scallops, and squeeze some lemon juice on top. Grind some pepper and, if you must, dust with more Parmesan. Did I do that? No I didn’t. You have to draw the line somewhere.

seared scallops

Seared Scallops on Sugar Snap Cacio e Pepe

A springy pasta dish with seafood that breaks a few rules along the way.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword pasta, scallops
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 26 minutes
Servings 2 people


  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound penne or spaghetti or any other pasta you like
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Red chili flakes
  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, strings removed, sliced in half on the diagonal
  • 2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted, doesn't matter
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 dry-packed scallops, patted dry
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice


  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. It should taste like good soup, but not so salty that it tastes like the ocean. About a few tablespoons, depending on how much water.
  • Drop your pasta into the water and at the same time, pour 1/4 cup of olive oil into a skillet. Add the garlic and toast on medium heat just until the garlic starts to take on a little color. Add a pinch of red chili flakes, then all of the sugar snaps. Toss all around until thoroughly coated and starting to soften a little. Then add a ladleful of pasta cooking water and allow to simmer and reduce as the pasta continues to cook. Lower the heat if too much evaporates.
  • When the pasta is cooked to your liking (see package instructions), lift it with a spider tool into the pan with the sugar snap peas and toss all around. Add the butter and black pepper and continue tossing until thoroughly coated. Off the heat, add the Parmesan cheese and stir aggressively until well incorporated. Taste for seasoning and set aside.
  • In a large skillet (cast iron, metal, even non-stick will work), heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil until very hot. Meanwhile season the scallops with salt and pepper and then add them, flat side down, in one layer. They should sizzle immediately upon hitting the skillet. Don't move them — leave them alone! — until you can see they're golden brown on the bottom. Using a spoon see if you can detach the scallop without having to tug. If it flips over by itself, it's ready. Flip all the scallops that way and cook on the other side just until the scallop is no longer translucent, about 15 seconds.
  • Spoon the pasta into bowls and top with the scallops. Squeeze lemon juice on top and add more pepper, if you like. Serve right away.

2 thoughts on “Seared Scallops on Sugar Snap Cacio e Pepe”

  1. Just made this tonight and was unbelievable. Loved everything about it , got the snap peas at the Union Square farmers market. All went together fantastic. Great recipe!

Let's dish!

Scroll to Top