Creamy Scallop Carbonara Recipe

My cooking is sometimes inspired by my travels. Often, before traveling, I will do some research to find out what foods and dishes are local to the area so I know what dishes to try when visiting those places or what foods to look for to bring back as mementos of the visit.

Italy is one of my favorite places to visit and, of course, it is home to wonderful pasta.  There is no shortage of places to buy authentic Italian pasta, like the one in the photo below in Venice.  In fact, you can usually pick up some packaged dry pasta at gift shops in Italian airports.  These kinds of items make great gifts to bring home to the foodies in your world.

Packages of dry pasta outside a shop in Venice, Italy
Italian Pasta (Venice, Italy)

So, this Creamy Scallop Carbonara recipe is inspired by my Italian travels.  It marries up two of my favorite foods – pasta and scallops. In fact, it is one of my most favorite ways to serve scallops. Carbonara is believed to have originated in Rome.  This pasta dish has basic, humble ingredients and really does prove that simplicity is often best. Pasta (usually spaghetti or linguine, though other pastas can work well, too), hard cheese (such as Parmigiano-Reggiano), eggs, and pork (pancetta, guanciale, or bacon) are the basis for making this dish.

Plate of carbonara with seared scallops and garnished with pea shoots
Scallop Carbonara

There are various methods for making carbonara but, what follows, is the method that works best for me. What makes a good carbonara is the sauce that is tossed with the cooked pasta.  No matter what method is used, the most important thing to remember is to always ensure that the egg sauce is not put over heat as the heat will cook the eggs too fast and a curdled or scrambled egg mixture is likely to result.

Plate of carbonara with seared scallops garnished with pea shoots. Cheese grater, loaf of artisan bread and bottle of wine in background
Creamy Scallop Carbonara

There is always a debate as to whether to use whole eggs or just egg yolks in a carbonara.  The problem I find with using whole eggs is that the whites will coagulate faster when they are combined with the hot pasta than the yolks will and this can result in a curdled sauce versus the desired creamy and glossy sauce.  The egg yolks provide the richness and flavour to this dish as well as the creamy texture of the sauce.  While, yes, the egg whites would provide more liquidity, I find (if additional liquid is required) it is best to add small amounts of the starchy water in which the pasta was cooked.  This will achieve the same goal and not risk a curdled, chalky sauce. In fact, sometimes I find little to no extra pasta water is required, depending on how much water I drag with the pasta as I transfer it from its cooking water to the sauce ingredients.

I don’t drain the cooked pasta. Rather, I use tongs to scoop up the pasta, dripping wet, from its cooking water and toss it into a heat-proof bowl containing the room-temperature egg yolks and cheese mixture.  The residual heat from the hot pasta will set the raw eggs as the pasta is quickly tossed about the bowl.  It is, therefore, important to keep the pasta moving quickly during this process to avoid scrambled eggs.  This method keeps the pasta cleaner looking than if it was to be tossed into the pan, for example, in which the pork and onion were cooked.  And, by not draining the pasta, it does not dry out and get cooled before it is tossed with the egg sauce. The hot pasta is needed to cook the egg yolks off heat. Because the pasta is still wet, I find I usually need very little extra water in the sauce though I do retain the pasta water just in case.  If extra water is needed, I recommend adding it in very small amounts at a time – no more than a half tablespoon or slightly less – as it is very easy to go from a creamy, velvety sauce to a sloppy soupy mess. The pasta certainly needs to be moist with the sauce but just not soupy.

Creamy carbonara wound around tines of a fork with plate of carbonara and loaf of artisan bread in background
Creamy Carbonara

Pork is a key ingredient in carbonara.  Guanciale or pancetta are perhaps the most authentic to use but I often will use bacon, especially if I take a notion for carbonara and don’t want to make a special trip to the supermarket for guanciale or pancetta.  That’s the nice thing about carbonara – so long as you have long pasta, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, bacon, and eggs on hand, this dish can be whipped up quickly.  While it is not always included in carbonara recipes, I do add a bit of onion that has been sautéed in the pan with some smashed garlic cloves that are later removed.  I find these do add a layer of taste to the flavor profile of this dish.

Plate of carbonara garnished with red cherry tomatoes and green fiddleheads
Creamy Scallop Carbonara

Carbonara can be served on its own, of course; however, adding some seared scallops does take this dish to another level! I have designed this dish for two servings; however, it can be doubled or tripled if a greater number of servings is required.  It can also be halved to one serving if you have only yourself to please! And, it can easily be made gluten free by using gluten-free spaghetti or linguine.

Seared bay scallop on end of fork with plate of carbonara in background
Creamy Scallop Carbonara

Make sure you have warmed plates or pasta bowls ready as this dish cools quickly once plated. I like to add pops of color to my carbonara with red and green being my favorite options.  Cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped green onion, pea shoots, parsley, or even bright green fiddleheads make this dish very attractive and appetizing.

Close up of plate of carbonara with seared scallops, red cherry tomatoes, and green fiddleheads
Creamy Scallop Carbonara

If you employ good, logical organizational skills, and work efficiently, you can have this restaurant-quality dish on the table in less than 30 minutes.  This makes it a meal that is do-able on a weeknight after arriving home from work.

Plate of carbonara topped with seared scallops and pea shoots. Loaf of artisan bread, glass of white wine and cheese are in background
Creamy Scallop Carbonara

Here’s how I make this meal in less than 30 minutes.

  • Start boiling the pot of water for the pasta
  • Set out all ingredients. Prep any ingredients that need prep work – e.g., grate the cheese, chop the pork and onion, smash the garlic cloves.  Set out the pots, pans, and cooking utensils needed.
  • Mix the egg yolks, cheese, salt, and pepper in a heat-proof bowl.
  • Heat the oven to low “warming” temperature to have it ready to keep the scallops warm.
  • Sear the scallops and transfer them, loosely tented with tin foil, to the warm oven.
  • Fry the pork
  • Cook the pasta
  • While the pasta is cooking, sauté the onion and garlic; add the pork.
  • Warm the plates or pasta bowls
  • Transfer pasta to prepared egg-cheese mixture in the bowl. Add some butter. Toss to set the egg.  Add the onion and pork.
  • Plate the pasta, add the scallops, garnish as desired, and enjoy.

[Printable recipe follows at end of post]

Creamy Scallop Carbonara

 
Ingredients:

2 large egg yolks, room temperature
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and Pepper, to taste

1 – 2 tsp olive oil
1 – 2 tbsp butter
12 – 14 large bay scallops, seasoned with salt and pepper

2 – 3 oz pancetta or guanciale or 2 slices bacon, chopped into small pieces

4 – 6 oz dry linguine or spaghetti pasta (wheat-based or gluten-free)

1 – 1½ tbsp olive oil
2-3 tbsp onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed (but each left in one piece)

1 tbsp butter

Freshly cracked black pepper
Additional Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, if desired

Optional Garnishes:
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Fresh parsley or pea shoots
Green onion, sliced

Method:

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil in preparation for cooking the pasta.

In heat-proof mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks together and stir in one-quarter cup of the cheese along with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Heat oven to low “warming” temperature.

Melt 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil in small sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add butter.  When butter has melted, add scallops and sear for about 2-3 minutes each side, until lightly browned.  Remove from heat and transfer to small tinfoil-lined baking sheet and loosely tent scallops with tin foil to keep them from drying out. Place in oven to keep scallops warm.

In small skillet, over medium heat, fry pancetta, guanciale, or bacon until the fat has been rendered out.  Remove pork with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Set aside.

Add the pasta to the boiling salted water and cook pasta al dente according to package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, discard about half the pork fat and add 1-1½ tablespoons of olive oil to the remaining fat in the skillet. Heat over medium heat then reduce heat to medium-low and add the onion and garlic, stirring and cooking until onion is almost transparent. Remove the skillet from the heat, discard the two smashed garlic cloves, and add the crumbled pork to the pan. Stir.

Using tongs, scoop the dripping wet pasta from its cooking water and add it to the egg-cheese mixture in bowl. Reserve pasta water. Add a tablespoon of butter.  Working quickly, toss pasta with tongs until eggs are set and sauce is thickened.  If mixture appears a bit dry, add enough pasta water, about one-half tablespoon at a time, to make the sauce creamy and pliable, but not soupy. Toss the onion and pork into the pasta.

Divide pasta mixture between two warmed plates or pasta bowls. Add some freshly cracked black pepper. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the pasta. Place 6-7 scallops on top of the pasta on each plate. Garnish with cherry or grape tomatoes, parsley or pea shoots, and/or green onion slices, if desired. Serve immediately.

Creamy Scallop Carbonara

On the table in less than 30 minutes, this restaurant quality creamy Scallop Carbonara is a super tasty pasta and scallop dish.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword carbonara, scallop carbonara
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 2
Author My Island Bistro Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 2 large egg yolks room temperature
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • 12 – 14 large bay scallops seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 – 3 oz pancetta or guanciale or 2 slices bacon chopped into small pieces
  • 4 – 6 oz dry linguine or spaghetti pasta wheat-based or gluten-free
  • 1 - 1½ tbsp olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic smashed (but each left in one piece)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Additional Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if desired

Optional Garnishes:

  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Fresh parsley or pea shoots
  • Green onion sliced

Instructions

  1. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil in preparation for cooking the pasta.
  2. In heat-proof mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks together and stir in one-quarter cup of the cheese along with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Heat oven to low “warming” temperature.
  4. Melt 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil in small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add butter. When butter has melted, add scallops and sear for about 2-3 minutes each side, until lightly browned. Remove from heat and transfer to small tinfoil-lined baking sheet and loosely tent scallops with tin foil to keep them from drying out. Place in oven to keep scallops warm.
  5. In small skillet, over medium heat, fry pancetta, guanciale, or bacon until the fat has been rendered out. Remove pork with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Set aside.
  6. Add the pasta to the boiling salted water and cook pasta al dente according to package directions.
  7. While the pasta is cooking, discard about half the pork fat and add 1-1½ tablespoons of olive oil to the remaining fat in the skillet. Heat over medium heat then reduce heat to medium-low and add the onion and garlic, stirring and cooking until onion is almost transparent. Remove the skillet from the heat, discard the two smashed garlic cloves, and add the crumbled pork to the pan. Stir.
  8. Using tongs, scoop the dripping wet pasta from its cooking water and add it to the egg-cheese mixture in bowl. Reserve pasta water. Add a tablespoon of butter. Working quickly, toss pasta with tongs until eggs are set and sauce is thickened. If mixture appears a bit dry, add enough pasta water, about one-half tablespoon at a time, to make the sauce creamy and pliable, but not soupy. Toss the onion and pork into the pasta.
  9. Divide pasta mixture between two warmed plates or pasta bowls. Add some freshly cracked black pepper. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the pasta. Place 6-7 scallops on top of the pasta on each plate. Garnish with cherry or grape tomatoes, parsley or pea shoots, and/or green onion slices, if desired. Serve immediately.

 

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Plate of carbonara with seared scallops, cherry tomatoes, and green fiddleheads

Plate of Carbonara with seared scallops and pea shoots