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Broccoli Pesto Pasta

Cook Time:
35 mins
Prep Time:
5 mins

Chef notes

This pesto balances the bright flavors of basil and lemon with the savory flavor of roasted broccoli. It's a really easy way to get greens in through my favorite vehicle: carbs and cheese. I developed this a few years ago and had my mom test it. Now, her coworkers are hounding her for the recipe and my dad mentions it at least every month.

Technique tip: Blanching the basil and shocking it in an ice bath will help the pesto retain a vibrant green color, but if you don't want to deal with the extra bowl, you can skip it — your pesto might come out a bit dark, though! When roasting the broccoli, rely on your timer and don't stir. This helps the broccoli develop a deep brown color and savory flavor. If you're wary of roasting, you can blanch the broccoli in the boiling water for about 10 minutes at step 3 instead.

Swap option: If you're not a fan of basil, you can replace it with baby spinach and blanch it for 20 seconds in step 3. This is a full meal on its own but it's delicious served with roast chicken, crispy skin salmon, or shrimp sautéed in garlic and butter.


  • 2 pounds broccoli florets, cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 2 cups basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 1 pound pasta of choice
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish



Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Fill a bowl with ice water.


In a large bowl, toss the broccoli florets with the vegetable oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Arrange in one even layer on the prepared baking sheet, flipping the florets cut-side-down whenever possible. Roast the broccoli, without stirring, until it is deeply golden-brown in spots, 20 to 25 minutes.


In a large pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Stir in the basil leaves and cook until wilted, about 5 seconds, then use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer to the ice water. Drain the basil and add to a blender or food processor. Keep the water boiling.


Add the pasta and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta through a colander and set aside.


To the blender or food processor with the basil, add the garlic, olive oil, capers, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and half of the roasted broccoli. Puree on high until smooth and vibrant green, about 30 seconds. Taste and season with salt and pepper.


Return pasta to the pot and add the remaining broccoli florets, broccoli puree, Parmesan cheese and half of the reserved pasta water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens slightly, and the pasta is well-coated, about 1 to 2 minutes; you may need to add more pasta water to coat the pasta. Remove from heat, taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed.


Serve immediately with extra grated Parmesan for topping.