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This vibrant lemony broccoli pesto pasta is quick and easy to make and full of fresh flavors.
Your veggies, greens, and pasta…all in one gorgeous dish! ♡
We’re all big fans of this lemony broccoli pesto pasta here in our house for different reasons. Teo, our toddler, loves the vibrant color and has taken to calling this recipe “super-green pasta”, since we have a lot of toddler-talk lately around here about how green veggies help keep our bodies nice and strong. My husband, Barclay, has yet to meet a pesto or broccoli dish that he doesn’t love, so this one was already a hit the first time I even mentioned the idea. And I — currently 38-weeks pregnant and highly motivated to get dinner on the table and off my feet stat, lol — really appreciate how a few easy shortcuts can bring this recipe together in just about 30 minutes of so. Plus, it’s absolutely delicious!!
I highly recommend using a bag of pre-cut refrigerated or frozen broccoli florets here to save you a bit of prep time. Then you can just toss them into the hot pasta water for a quick cook, transfer the broccoli to a food processor while the pasta cooks to purée it into a nutrient- and flavor-packed pesto with fresh spinach, lots of fresh basil, garlic, lemon, Parmesan, pine nuts (or almonds) and olive oil, then combine the sauce with perfectly al dente pasta to create a gorgeous pesto pasta.
It’s a fabulous dish served just on its own, or you’re of course welcome to mix in your favorite cooked protein (such as shrimp, chicken, salmon, Italian sausage) or roasted veggies if you would like. Or if you happen to be craving pasta salad on a nice warm day, this recipe works just as well served chilled instead of hot. Options, options.
However you make this one, I feel certain you’re going to love it as much as we do. So grab some broccoli and let’s make a big batch of pesto pasta together!
Lemony Broccoli Pesto Pasta Ingredients
Here are a few quick notes about the broccoli pesto pasta ingredients that you will need to make this recipe:
- Pasta: We’re partial to making this recipe with mezzi rigatoni in our home, but you could use just about any shape of short pasta or long pasta noodles that you love best here. Just don’t forget to generously salt the pasta water in order to bring out the best flavor of the pasta before we add in the pesto.
- Broccoli florets: I typically save time by purchasing an 8-ounce (2.5 cups) bag of pre-cut refrigerated broccoli florets, but you could totally cut your own broccoli florets by hand or use pre-cut frozen florets.
- Fresh basil: Fresh basil always adds such a delicious burst of herbal, aromatic flavor to pesto and pairs beautifully with the flavor of the broccoli.
- Parmesan: As always, I highly (highly) recommend purchasing a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano and grating it yourself for optimal freshness and rich umami flavor. I do this using a microplane and kitchen scale to ensure that I have the correct amount.
- Toasted pine nuts or almonds: Feel free to use either toasted pine nuts or toasted slivered almonds to add some nutty, creamy flavor to the broccoli pesto.
- Baby spinach: I always love adding in a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach to add extra nutrients to the pesto. You can’t really taste it, but it definitely makes the green color even more vibrant.
- Garlic: Fresh (raw) garlic cloves add a delicious kick to the pesto and pair deliciously with the lemon and basil.
- Lemon: The citrusy zing of fresh lemon is essential here to balance and brighten up the flavors of the pesto. We’ll add both lemon zest and juice to the sauce itself, but I recommend adding a lemon wedge to each serving for anyone who prefers an even more lemony pasta.
- Salt and pepper: As always, don’t forget to generously season your pesto sauce with salt and pepper.
- Olive oil: And finally, I recommend using a nicer-quality extra-virgin olive oil anytime you make pesto since its flavor will really shine through in the sauce.
Full instructions for how to make this pesto pasta are included in the recipe box below, but here are a few extra tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t overcook the pasta. You all know this is a soap box of mine. 😉 But please don’t trust the time instructions on your package of pasta and instead taste-test its texture regularly during the last few minutes of cooking so that you cook it *just* to al dente. Each bite of pasta should be firm and still have a chewy “bite” to its texture.
- Take time to toast the nuts. It’s also worth it to take the extra few minutes to toast the pine nuts or almonds until they are lightly golden, in order to bring out the best of their flavors. You can either do this in a sauté pan over medium-low heat or in the oven. Just keep a very close eye on them so that they do not burn.
- Blend pesto until very smooth. I prefer the texture of this pesto to be quite smooth, so I recommend blending in some starchy pasta water to the pesto until it reaches a nice and creamy texture.
- Taste the pesto before adding it to the pasta. Also, be sure to give the pesto a quick taste before adding it to the pasta. You may need extra salt, pepper or lemon juice.
- Enjoy hot or cold! This pesto pasta is equally delicious served warm or cold, in my opinion. So feel free to enjoy it warm with your favorite veggies or proteins, or you can always rinse the al dente pasta in cold water and then mix with the pesto for a cold pasta salad if you prefer. Both are great options!
As mentioned above, feel totally free to add whatever extra protein, veggies, or toppings that you might want to this recipe. But if you’re looking for any other variations specifically on the broccoli pesto, here are a few fun options to try:
- Add cream. Add a splash of cream to the pesto to make a creamier sauce.
- Add some heat. Add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to the pesto or your favorite minced fresh chile (such as jalapeño or a Thai red bird chile).
- Add different fresh herbs. Add an additional herb in with the basil, such as fresh chives, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, or thyme.
- Add sun-dried tomatoes. Add
- Roast the broccoli. Roast the broccoli florets until tender instead of boiling them.
- Use seeds in place of nuts. Replace the pine nuts or almonds with your favorite seeds, such as pepitas or sunflower seeds.
More Favorite Pesto Recipes
Looking for more yummy pesto recipes to try? Here are a few of our faves:
This vibrant lemony broccoli pesto pasta is quick and easy to make and full of fresh flavor!
- 1 pound uncooked pasta (I used mezze rigatoni)
- 2 1/2 cups (8 ounces) broccoli florets
- 1 cup (1 ounce) fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
- 1 cup (1 ounce) freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds
- 1 large handful (2 ounces) fresh baby spinach
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 1 large lemon, zest and juice
- 1/2 teaspoon each: fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Boil the water. Bring a large stockpot of generously-salted water to a boil over high heat.
- Cook the broccoli. Once the water is boiling, add the broccoli and stir to combine. Cook for 3 minutes or until tender. Use a spider strainer or a slotted spoon to transfer the broccoli to a food processor, leaving the remaining water boiling in the stockpot.
- Cook the pasta. Add the pasta to the stockpot and cook until *just* al dente. Meanwhile, make the pesto while the pasta cooks.
- Prepare the pesto. Add the basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, spinach, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the food processor. Pulse to blend while slowly drizzling in the olive oil until the mixture is smooth. Scoop out ¼ cup of the starchy boiling pasta water and add it to the pesto. Pulse until super-smooth and creamy. (If needed, add extra pasta water to achieve that super-smooth consistency.)
- Toss. Once the pasta is al dente, scoop out an additional 1/2 cup of the starchy boiling pasta water and set it aside. Strain the pasta and return it to the stockpot. Add the broccoli pesto and toss to combine. If the pesto seems at all dry, add in a bit of the starchy water and toss to combine.
- Serve. Serve warm, garnished with extra Parmesan and a twist of black pepper, and enjoy!
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