Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions and Scallops

Yesterday afternoon I smelled something wonderful wafting thru my condo’s windows. It was sweet and savory and delicious. I identified it as caramelized onions. I, too, needed to make something with caramelized onions! Right now! Well, I had an onion and a half, spaghetti, and scallops that had been languishing in the freezer. I had fresh lemons and thyme, and I was already in the process of steaming an artichoke. Dinner was coming together nicely.

Can I talk about caramelized onions? Now, I love a good onion pretty much however you slice it. Onions, along with their friends olive oil and garlic, are the beginning to any stir-fry and most anything else I do with veggies, be it of Asian or Mediterranean origin. I’ll even take onions raw, cut up small in potato salad or thinly sliced on a sandwich or salad. But caramelized onions . . . oh, they elevate the humble onion to a place that is divine! By slowly (slowly!) cooking a thinly sliced onion with some butter (or a combination of butter and olive oil) you create a creamy, slightly sweet, rich and subtile onion flavor. Use your caramelized onions on homemade pizza, over baked brie, on bruschetta, in a panini, . . . the list goes on and on. I haven’t found something on which I don’t like caramelized onions.

Caramelized onions are really the star of this pasta dish. Yes, there are scallops in it and they are great too. But you could easily swap them for shrimp, mushrooms, or even chicken (if you cooked the chicken ahead of time), or leave them out entirely. You could leave out the butter (just use a bit more olive oil) and cheese and you’ll have a great vegan dish. My point is that this is a dish about caramelized onions. Let them take center stage.

You’ll be amazed at how rich and creamy this dish tastes. I know I was. It tastes like there is heavy cream in it somewhere, or at least a whole lot more butter. But, that is the payoff from taking your time with the onions. They impart a sumptuousness to the whole dish that makes it so much better than the sum of its parts. Also, finishing off the pasta in the same skillet as the onions really allows the flavors to combine and makes the pasta itself better than if you’d kept it isolated until serving.

I strongly suggest that you pick up some onions on your way home today, and make this dish. You’ll be so happy you did!

Spaghetti with Caramelized Onions and Scallops

serves 3 (or 2 if you both go back for seconds!)

  • 1 1/2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme (about two sprigs)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 12 large scallops, halved and seasoned with salt and pepper
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup pasta cooking water
  • cooked spaghetti for 3 people
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving

Heat a heavy skillet (I use my 10″ cast-iron skillet) over medium-low heat. Add butter and olive oil. When the butter is melted and just beginning to foam add all the onions and shallot. Stir to coat with the fats and continue cooking, stirring often, until the onions soften and begin to brown. This will take about 20 minutes. Take your time, and don’t turn up the heat. The key to caramelized onions is to cook them slowly. You will be rewarded.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water until it is just barely al dente. Don’t over cook it!; you’ll be combining the pasta with the onions at the end and the pasta will finish cooking in the onion’s skillet. And remember to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before you drain it.

Once the onions are soft and have begun to brown, add the thyme and garlic. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are a medium brown and your whole kitchen smells wonderful.

Add the scallops to the onions. Increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, until the scallops are almost cooked thru. Add the cooked pasta and the lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Toss to combine (I use tongs from this point forward) and, if needed, add some of the pasta cooking water. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and/or pepper as needed. Cook until the pasta and scallops are cooked thru.

Serve immediately with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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