Broccoli Pesto Pasta

Bring the bright flavors of basil pesto to a fast and filling weeknight dinner.

Broccoli Pesto Pasta
Photo: Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ruth Blackburn, Prop Stylist Christine Keely
Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
35 mins
Servings:
4

There are a million ways to make pesto. Basil is traditional, but other leafy herbs, leftover greens, and even vegetable scraps like turnip tops, can be turned into the classic Northern Italian sauce. We use broccoli as the base of this cheesy pesto, still made with some basil, as well as toasted walnuts.

If you don't have a food processor, you can still make this sauce. After all, Italian grandmothers back in the day didn't have one either. You can either use a mortar and pestle to crush down the ingredients in batches or finely chop it all up by hand. If you are doing it by hand and want a finer texture, you can transfer the finely chopped ingredients to a ziplock bag, press all the air out, and seal it shut. Then use a rolling pin or wine bottle to roll over the bag and further smush the ingredients. It will look more rustic than if you had used a food processor, but will still beat the jarred stuff any day.

Food processor or not, the secret to the vibrant color of this pesto is blanching the broccoli. Don't skip transferring the cooked broccoli from the boiling water to an ice bath; it stops the cooking process and will preserve the vegetable's bright green color.

While delicious served warm out of the skillet, this dish can also be eaten as a cold pasta salad for lunch. Get creative and fold in other pesto pasta add-ins, like a few frozen peas, or swap out the walnuts for almonds. But always finish it with an extra sprinkle of Parmesan because there's no such thing as too much cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp., plus 1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, divided 

  • 6 cups small fresh broccoli florets (16 oz.)  

  • 1 (16-oz.) pkg. orecchiette pasta 

  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves (from 2 [2-oz.] pkg.), coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish  

  • 2 ½ oz. Parmesan cheese, finely shredded (about 1 cup), plus shaved Parmesan cheese for garnish  

  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil 

  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon) 

  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped (1 Tbsp.) 

  • ½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped and divided 

  • Black pepper 

Directions

  1. Fill a large bowl with water and ice; set aside. Bring 12 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high; stir in 1 tablespoon of the salt. Add broccoli; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer broccoli to ice water, and let cool for 30 seconds; drain well. Set aside.

  2. Return water in saucepan to a boil over medium-high. Add pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water. Return pasta to saucepan; set aside.

  3. Coarsely chop 3 cups broccoli. Place chopped broccoli, basil, Parmesan, oil, lemon juice, garlic, 1/4 cup of the walnuts, and remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt in bowl of a food processor; pulse until a coarse pesto is achieved, about 30 pulses, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed.

  4. Add pesto, remaining 3 cups broccoli, and reserved 1/2 cup cooking water to pasta in saucepan; cook over medium-low, stirring often, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Top evenly with remaining 1/4 cup walnuts; garnish with basil, Parmesan, and pepper.

This recipe originally appeared in the September 2022 issue.

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