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
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.
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.