Broccoli pesto is a new favorite in our household and is a great way to introduce some healthy, fibrous vegetables into pesto (without folks even knowing there's broccoli in there!) This broccoli pesto pasta takes it one step further with toasted lemon zest, fresh cherry tomatoes, and basil.
The post contains helpful tips and tricks to make sure you're successful in your first attempt. But if you're in a rush, please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end!
💭 Why you'll love this recipe
- Convenient, comes together in 30 minutes: This is a super efficient meal that comes together in no time. Perfect for weeknight dinners.
- Nutrition packed and delicious: Broccoli has so many vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Lemon zest and cherry tomatoes add a zing!
- Great for make-ahead, keeps well in the fridge: I love making this pasta as a make-ahead meal for a quick weekday lunch I can heat up.
📋 Ingredients and notes
You'll need long pasta, cherry tomatoes, lemon juice and zest, fresh basil, broccoli, garlic cloves, pine nuts and olive oil for this recipe. I also love adding some whipped ricotta, but that's optional. Ingredients notes and variations below to mix it up every once in a while!
Notes and Variations
- Roasted broccoli: I love adding roasted broccoli to this dish. You can also use roasted broccoli in your pesto! To do either of these, warm your oven to 400F and roast broccoli florets for 30 minutes.
- Use fresh or frozen broccoli: Both fresh and frozen broccoli work!
- Vegan vs. vegetarian: I love adding vegetarian parmesan or whipped ricotta (inspired by Half Baked Harvest) but, if you omit the cheese, the recipe is totally vegan!
- Nuts vs. nut-free: I like using pine nuts for a traditional pesto flavor, and top my pasta with some pine nuts too. You can substitute this with pistachios, walnuts, cashew nuts if you wish. To go nut-free, you can use pumpkin or sunflower seeds, roasted broccoli (instead of blanched) or just leave the nuts out and make the recipe as written.
📖 Step-by-step instructions
Prepare the broccoli
Preheat your oven to 400F. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and fill a mixing bowl with some ice cubes. While the water is boiling, rinse and break down your head of broccoli. Set aside a cup of broccoli florets and dump the rest on a baking sheet. Drizzle with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
You can totally roast the stalks as well! These are delicious.
Add the cup of broccoli florets you set aside to the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Then transfer to the mixing bowl to stop cooking.
Cook the pasta
Allow the water to come back to a boil, add a pinch of salt, and then cook the pasta to package directions (mine was 8 minutes for al dente pasta).
Make the broccoli pesto
On a skillet, toast pine nuts on a medium flame for about 1-2 minutes until golden and toasty. Set aside two tablespoons for garnish.
Add a cup of blanched broccoli florets and a cup of fresh basil, some garlic cloves, and half a cup of the pine nuts to a food processor and pulse to get a coarse mixture. Slowly add olive oil slowly through the chute to emulsify to a smooth (but somewhat chunky) consistency. Finally, season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside. Check out my detailed broccoli pesto post for step-by-step photos!
Assemble the pasta
In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add a finely diced shallot and sauté for a minute. Then, add fresh lemon zest along with a teaspoon of minced garlic (roughly one clove) and sauté until fragrant (30 to 45 seconds).
Drain your cooked pasta (reserving half a cup of pasta water) and add the pasta to the skillet. Then, add the broccoli pesto, turn the heat to low, and toss to coat the pasta (using pasta water as needed). Finally, add the roasted broccoli, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and the remaining toasted pine nuts. Drizzle with lemon juice. Your pasta is ready.
If making whipped ricotta, just add a cup of whole milk ricotta to the same food processor along with a teaspoon of lemon zest and juice, and pulse until it's creamy and whipped. Serve the pasta with a nice dollop of this whipped ricotta!
👩🏽🍳Top tips and FAQs
I have used cottage cheese and goat cheese to make whipped cheese (but you'll need something like heavy cream for the texture). In a pinch, you can also use crème fraiche!
This recipe is vegan except for the whipped cheese! You can use whipped vegan ricotta or leave it out to make the recipe vegan.
Yes, you can! In this case, you just need to thaw them to room temperature - not need to chop or blanch! You can also roast them - make sure to pat them dry before you throw them in the oven.
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
I love making this pasta (minus the whipped ricotta) ahead of time. Usually, if making ahead, I'll store the garnishes and the pasta separately so they don't get all mushy. But you can also just throw them all in one airtight container and throw it in the fridge. It'll last a couple of days!
If you like this recipe, don't forget to try out my other pasta recipes:
Broccoli Pesto Pasta
- Food Processor
- ⅓ head of broccoli, or ~1 cup of broccoli florets
- 1 cup fresh basil
- ½ cup pine nuts, divided, 2 tablespoons for garnish
- 3 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
Pasta & Toppings
- 16 oz pasta, I used bucatini
- ⅔ head of broccoli, or ~2 cups of broccoli florets
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 shallot, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced (or 1 teaspoon minced garlic)
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Preheat your oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and fill a mixing bowl with some ice cubes. While the water is boiling, rinse and break down your head of broccoli. Set aside a cup of broccoli florets for the pesto, and dump the rest on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, and sprinkle a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of black pepper. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Set aside.
- While the broccoli is roasting, add the cup of broccoli florets you set aside to the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Then transfer to the mixing bowl with ice to stop cooking.
- Allow the water to come back to a boil, add a pinch of salt, and then cook the pasta to package directions (mine was around 9 minutes for al dente pasta). Once it's cooked, drain (reserving half a cup of pasta water) and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat a skillet and toast ½ cup of pine nuts on a medium flame for about 1-2 minutes until golden and toasty. Set aside two tablespoons for garnish.
- Add a cup of blanched broccoli florets, a cup of fresh basil, 2 to 3 garlic cloves, and the toasted pine nuts to a food processor. Pulse until you get a coarse mixture. Then, add ¼ cup of olive oil slowly through the chute to emulsify to a smooth (but somewhat chunky) consistency. If your food processor does not have a chute, add olive oil in one tablespoon increments until you get to desired consistency. Finally, add a teaspoon of salt and set aside.
- In a large skillet, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and heat on medium flame. Add a finely diced shallot and sauté for a minute. Then, add two teaspoons of fresh lemon zest along with a teaspoon of minced garlic (roughly one clove) and sauté until fragrant (30 to 45 seconds). Add the pasta to the skillet. Then, add the broccoli pesto, turn the heat to low, and toss to coat the pasta fully (adding the reserved pasta water as necessary to get the right consistency). Finally, add the roasted broccoli, a cup of cherry tomatoes, a handful of fresh basil, and the two tablespoons of toasted pine nuts. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice on top. Your pasta is ready.
- Add a cup of whole milk ricotta to the same food processor along with a teaspoon of lemon zest and a teaspoon of lemon juice, and pulse until it's creamy and whipped. Serve the pasta with a nice dollop of this whipped ricotta!
- You'll need 1 medium sized broccoli for this recipe - I tend to use a third for the pesto, and roast the other two-thirds. This helps me also roast some of the stalks, which I love eating! Measurements have also been provided in cups in case you have broccoli florets already (fresh or frozen).
- You'll need roughly one fresh lemon for the recipe - this will produce enough juice and zest for both the pasta and the whipped ricotta. I strongly suggest going organic if you use citrus zest of any sort since pesticides concentrate in peels.
- Almost all the toppings are optional to some degree. This pasta literally tastes amazing with nothing but pesto and pasta (true story for half my lunches).
- You can substitute pine nuts with walnuts, cashews, pistachios, or even pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Or you can roast the whole broccoli and toss a third of the roasted florets into the pesto instead of nuts.
- You can leave out the whipped ricotta to make this recipe vegan, or use a vegan version (though I haven't tested a specific brand to make recommendations).