Some nights, the subtle alchemy of cooking blows me away. It never ceases to amaze me that a handful of ingredients—humble and cheap—can be transformed and spun into endless, interesting, delicious variations. Cooking will probably always do that for me; it gives me a "this came from this?!" feeling at the end, even though I was right there performing each step.
Obviously, sometimes it feels hot and sweaty and chaotic and hard to pull a meal together, and then I think "this G-D DISH DOES NOT REFLECT HOW MUCH WORK WENT INTO IT". Or it winds up tasting bland and uninteresting. But you know, c'est la vie, we take what comes at us on any given day.
If dinner isn't a home run, there are ways to recoup the night. (I think that's why they invented pints of ice cream.) You can watch the trailer for a good movie (Ideal Home with Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan) and laugh your head off and mark your calendar for June 29th to see it in theaters. You can sit on the couch and eat a few vanilla mochi ice cream balls, or your mom's chocolate biscotti dipped in almond milk until they soften and almost fall apart. You can listen to the song "River" by Leon Bridges and feel your heart swell.
But fortunately, today's recipe is one of the good ones. It really is very simple, but it's a good lesson in taking a few extra steps to build flavor. I've slowly learned a slew of ways to make a nice pasta sauce, and it's much more delicious when you toss the cooked pasta together with your sauce and some leftover pasta cooking water, as it binds the dish together and gives it a perfectly unctuous texture. (Yeah, unctuous, I said it!)
I used scallops here, but shrimp would work well. If you wanted to go with meat, try chicken. You could use eggplant or tofu or chickpeas for the protein in a vegetarian version.
If you use scallops, it's key to not flip them while cooking. This will give them a nice golden sear on each side. If you are impatient like me, you'll be tempted to just flip them a teeeeeny bit to take a look, but don't! Let them cook undisturbed for a few minutes on the first side, then flip and cook them another minute or so.
Scallop Bucatini with Arrabiatta Sauce
Adapted from Sunbasket
1 large handful (5 ounces) dried bucatini pasta
10 ounces sea scallops, with the muscle removed
1 shallot, minced
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, cut in quarters
1/2 pound haricot vert, ends trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
7 ounces diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons capers
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and set aside.
In a large pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil until hot. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel, season them with salt and pepper, and place them in the pan. Cook over high heat for 4 minutes without flipping, then flip and cook for another minute on the other side.
Transfer the scallops to a plate, and don't wipe out the pan.
Add the shallot to the pan and cook for a minute over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and haricot vert and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the reserved 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water along with the tomatoes, tomato paste, paprika, and cayenne. Cook for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta, scallops, and capers. Serve!