Food

Pasta With Broccoli Pesto

Pasta with Broccoli Pesto

I’ve been cooking and writing about food for decades, and still there’s one thing that still makes me irrationally happy…

When I’m able to take a very basic, humble ingredient and turn it into a delicious dinner. I mean, of course, it’s amazing when I am lucky enough to have, say, peak-season spring ramps to bake into pizza or juicy summer tomatoes to whirl into transcendent gazpacho. But that kind of cooking is easy — to some degree those ingredients are doing most of the work; we just have to be smart enough to step back and let them shine.

Instead, to figure out a way to make something memorable out of supermarket cabbage or about-to-go-rotten produce? That feels like a different kind of satisfaction — maybe because dinners like that come with a side dish of feeling thrifty and therefore virtuous.

In any case! That’s where I found myself last week. It felt like I had nothing in the kitchen except for a bunch of broccoli that was minutes away from being un-salvagable. So, I put on my cape and went to work turning the florets into a pesto for spaghetti. I realize I wasn’t inventing anything new here, but I didn’t exactly have a plan. I knew I wanted to blitz the broccoli in a blender, I knew it was going to need some brightness from lemon and Parm, and I knew I needed olive oil, which is what made that gazpacho up there so luscious. The resulting sauce was so delicious, I now have a new favorite dinner.

Pasta with Broccoli Pesto

Pasta with Broccoli Pesto
I like that this entire recipe happens in one pot (plus one blender) and that the pasta boils in the same water as the broccoli. If you have more pine nuts, toasted extras would be excellent on this.

Kosher salt
5 cups broccoli (from 1 large bunch) trimmed
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
1 garlic clove, pressed
3 scallions (white and light green parts only), roughly chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup grated Parmesan (vegetarian Parm to keep this recipe veg), plus more for serving
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about half a large lemon)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound pasta (I like using spaghetti or fettuccini, but any pasta will work)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
red pepper flakes for serving to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water (at least 10 cups) to a boil. Add the broccoli and simmer 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out 2 cups of broccoli, set aside on a cutting board and allow to cool. Simmer the remaining broccoli for another minute. Turn off the heat, scoop out 1/4 cup of the broccoli water, then using a slotted spoon, scoop out the remaining broccoli from the pot into the pitcher of a blender.

To the blender, add the olive oil, garlic, scallions, pine nuts, Parmesan, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon or two of reserved water. Blend until emulsified and saucy (you want it to be easily pourable, thinner than a milkshake) using more reserved water as needed.

Bring the pot of “broccoli water” back to a boil and add the pasta, cooking according to package directions until al dente. Strain the pasta, then add back to the pot and toss with the butter to prevent sticking.

Drizzle in the broccoli pesto, tossing with tongs as you go. You want the pasta to be coated but not gloppy — about 1/2 to 3/4 cup, you might have some pesto leftover. (See leftover note below.) Chop up the reserved broccoli into 1-inch pieces (including stems) and toss into the pot. Serve in bowls with more Parm, a shake of red pepper flakes, more black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Use leftover pesto as a dip for crudité, tossed with rice, dolloped into soups, or drizzled on roasted vegetables.

P.S. Five-ingredient pesto pizza and cauliflower soup.

  1. Sandy says...

    How do I print these recipes?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we don’t have a printing option, I’m so sorry, sandy!

  2. Anika says...

    made a variation of this as “using up all the ingredients” dish today and then just now read your recipe idea. great cooks think alike :)
    when mixing everything with the pasta, i added peas (i cooked them a bit with the broccoli so they weren’t too crunchy, but didn’t blend them for the pesto), plus a spritz of leftover white wine, then crumbled some leftover feta cheese on top. it was DELICIOUS! will try your version next time. greetings from rome

  3. Hi Jenny Rosenstrach!
    Thanks for your amazing write-up.
    Pasta is my all-time favorite. But now you’ve shown a different way to cook pasta that sounds interesting. I’ll add extra spice, that is my preference.
    I feel happy reading this beautiful experimental article. I hope I will read more.

  4. Suzan Tiemroth-Zavala says...

    Wouldn’t you know it? I read this post and just knew there was some sad-looking broccoli in my refrigerator. Had all the ingredients, but not quite enough broccoli, so I added some asparagus (also sad-looking) but kept the tips out to go on top. I think it was the best “pesto” I have ever had. Thanks for the idea. Would love to see more “clean out your refrigerator recipes!

  5. Estelle says...

    I make this without the scallions every month. My children love it!

  6. Jane I. says...

    I’m gonna try this for my toddler this weekend! He loves broccoli!!

  7. We drizzle our pesto over pizzas. Takes home made pizza night to the next level.

  8. Rachel Simmons says...

    I just love the way she writes! “maybe because dinners like that come with a side dish of feeling thrifty and therefore virtuous,”… I mean come on! Much joy and admiration for you Jenny R!

  9. Hannah says...

    This sounds delightful Jenny! A few months back my friend gifted me your book (Dinner: ALS) and when I look back on these times in a few year it will be remembered as a bright spot in my pandemic life!! Thanks for so many wonderful recipes and witty writing!

  10. Christine says...

    I made this for dinner tonight (minus scallions since I didn’t have them on hand) -it was a hit! My plain pasta-loving 8 year old even chose to have the pesto on his seconds. Thanks for a delicious recipe!

  11. Josephine says...

    To everyone asking about pine nut substitutes – I often use toasted sunflower seeds! They’re cheaper and less likely to have allergy issues ✌🏻

  12. a.n. says...

    *love* broccoli and *love* pesto – this looks delicious and so easy! thanks!

  13. Lauren says...

    I make something similar except that I blend blanched cauliflower and cashews quick soaked in boiling water (or overnight if you don’t have a high speed blender.) Add lemon, garlic, and maybe nutritional yeast if that’s your thing and you have the creamiest dreamiest dairy free pasta!

    I’ve also blended steamed kabocha squash/peanut butter/rice vinegar for a sweet and peanuty noodle sauce!

    Basically I’ve learned you can steam and blanch any vegetable and turn it into pasta sauce. It’s magic.

    • rachel simmons says...

      woah! I will for sure be trying some of these! brilliant.

  14. Tamara says...

    Anyone have a source for good pine nuts that are cheaper than Costco’s $25 bag?

    • Eliza says...

      Trader Joes

    • Ashley says...

      Nuts.com. Be careful, I never get off that site without spending at least $50.

  15. Ellen says...

    I can’t wait to make this Jenny! Any suggestions on what to substitute for the pine nuts since they are not in my pantry at the moment?

    • Lauren says...

      Walnuts! But almost any type of nut or seed can work in a pesto context, from what I’ve found!

    • Leah says...

      I sub walnuts for pine nuts all the time in pesto, works great.

    • Neela says...

      Cashews are my go-to whenever I cringe at the price of pine-nuts!

    • Sarah says...

      I sometimes use walnuts when I don’t have pine nuts! Haven’t tried with broccoli, but works with spinach or basil pesto.

    • EmBed says...

      If you want to make things even cheaper, use sunflower seeds. I use them in pesto all the time and the difference is minimal –but the cost savings is enormous. Plus, sunflower seeds are still healthy and you can serve the pesto to anyone with a nut allergy.

  16. Emily says...

    Pretty sure this is going to be dinner tonight! Thanks for the suggestion!

  17. Clever! I learned to make a pesto that used up kale stems from Linda Ly’s amazing book The CSA Cookbook. I was so inspired that her parents used every single part of every veg.

  18. Maggie says...

    This looks delicious – thank you! Any thoughts on whether the pine nuts can be omitted (one of my kids has an allergy)?

    • Jennifer says...

      Maggie, one of my kids has an allergy to tree nuts, too. We just leave them out of pesto. Choose a good parm that’s a little nutty and I bet you won’t miss the pine nuts.

  19. Kay says...

    That looks delicious!
    Unfortunately, I can’t cook with nuts (include my pine nuts), due to allergies – do you can any non-nutty alternative to the pine nuts?

    • Sophie says...

      I’ve never tried it but have heard that hemp seeds can work in place of nuts for pesto!

    • C. says...

      I would just leave them out, and maybe sprinkle some toasted bread crumbs over the top to add a little texture and crunch.

    • rachel simmons says...

      sunflower seeds!

  20. Sam says...

    I have a silly question for anyone who has made this: Does this taste strongly of broccoli? I desperately want to be a vegetable lover, but try as I might, I still have an embarrassingly long list of vegetables I dislike. Unfortunately, broccoli is on the list. I try to fight this by eating vegetables in their most delicious or tamest forms and hoping I will magically like them. Sometimes it works! I now eat raw tomatoes and allll the sweet potatoes :) I am thinking this might be a good candidate for my next project!

    • Sunny says...

      Do you ever roast your veggies? They’re always next-level when roasted. Cut a bunch (carrots, broc or cauli, anything sturdy, zucchini, asparagus, yellow potatoes) in similar sizes, toss in a bowl with olive oil, S&P, roast on high (450) for about half an hour (check them). When the cauliflower crisps up and goes brown…. yummmm.

  21. Lynea Wilson says...

    You can also make pesto from celery leaves! I liked this much more that I expected, such a bright satisfying flavor. Plus it has the thriftiness and therefore virtue feelings that Jenny so perfectly describes.

  22. LEE ANN says...

    Plan to add this to my pasta night rotation. One question: Why not include the dark green parts of the scallions?

  23. Julie says...

    I’ve made this too! It’s excellent with a little ricotta mixed in.

  24. Julie says...

    Yum yum yum, I make this too as broccoli is my favourite vegetable. I sometimes swap out the broccoli with courgette. Equally delish!

  25. MyHanh Ozonoff says...

    How would you alter this with frozen broccoli? I bought a bunch of frozen veggies from one of your earlier posts!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I would throw the frozen broccoli right into the boiling water, then when it comes back to a boil, scoop out your reserves. Then continue as written. The beauty of this is that you can’t really overcook the broccoli — the mushier it is, the easier it whirls into a sauce!

  26. Anna G says...

    Putting on my purple cape as soon as I am done typing. I over ordered broccoli last week. Looking forward to this dinner.

  27. The line “Dinners like that come with a side dish of feeling thrifty and therefore virtuous” really made me smile. So well written Jenny, and I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment haha!

  28. Rachel Allmen says...

    Tonight’s dinner planned! Thank you Jenny.

  29. Kristín says...

    Can’t wait to try this!

  30. Excited to try this! Do you think this would work with frozen broccoli?

    • Daniah Din says...

      +1 to this question!

    • Valerie says...

      I have made this multiple times with frozen broccoli & it works perfectly!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      yes! see my instructions above in comments!

    • Lia says...

      I make this all the time with frozen broccoli!! I treat it just the same…maybe cook a bit longer to make sure it is not frozen :)

  31. Fran says...

    Broccoli pesto is a staple in our house! When I have basil, I throw that in there as well and have been known to sub toasted walnuts for pine nuts when I’m out. Also great with the humble frozen broccoli. When it’s blitzed, you really can’t tell the difference in my opinion.