You’ll love this twist on pesto pasta with broccoli and a good splash of fresh lemon juice. Loads of flavor! And you’ll have extra pesto to freeze for later use! (Tips & step-by-step tutorial below)
Pesto Pasta with Broccoli and Lemon
I’m a big fan of pesto pasta, so when I saw Gaby’s version in her new book Eat What You Want (affiliate link), I was game!
This broccoli pesto pasta is exactly what it sounds like. A wholesome broccoli past, loaded with basil pesto deliciousness and a big, bright splash of lemon!
The broccoli blends in as part of the tasty pesto; even picky eaters won’t object!
The flavors in this pesto pasta recipe will surprise your taste buds in the best way possible! And it’s pretty easy to make.
Best part, this recipe makes extra broccoli pesto that you can freeze for later use! (I know a bunch of meal prep mavens who can appreciate this).
Ingredients & Prep
You can think of this recipe as having two main components: the broccoli pesto, which uses up most of the ingredients, and the pasta. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Broccoli- You can use 1 head of broccoli cut into stems and florets or about 12 ounces of frozen broccoli (I used frozen, and you do not need to thaw it before cooking).
- Pine nuts- 6 tablespoons of pine nuts (you’ll use most of this to make the pesto and some to garnish). To toast the pine nuts, put them in a skillet (no oil needed) and toast over medium heat, shaking the pan often and stirring the pine nuts with a wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes until golden.
- Parmesan Cheese- 3 cups of quality granted Parmesan. Some will be used in the pesto, and some to coat the pasta and to garnish. (Oops forgot to include this one in the photo above, but it’s an important ingredient)!
- Fresh Basil Leaves- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (about 80 grams)
- Lemon zest and juice- Zest and juice of 2 lemons, plus more zest for garnish. I love the extra zing from fresh lemon here!
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil- 1 cup quality extra virgin olive oil to use for the broccoli pesto. (Find the olive oils I use at our shop here).
- Pasta- 1 pound of short pasta of your choice (and if you’re planning on a Mediterranean diet dinner, go for a whole wheat pasta)
How to Make Pesto Pasta
Lemon Broccoli Pesto Pasta: Step-by-Step (print friendly recipe below)
- Cook the broccoli
Bring a large pot of water to a boil (make sure it’s well salted with kosher salt). Add in the broccoli florets and stems (I used 12 ounces frozen broccoli here). You want the broccoli to be crisp tender, this should take about 3 to 4 minutes or so.
Prepare a bowl of ice water to the side. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked broccoli to the bowl of ice water. Then drain the broccoli well over a few paper towel sheets.
Tip: Do not discard the cooking water, you will use it later for the past.
- Make the Pesto
Transfer the broccoli to the bowl of a large food processor fitted with a blade. Add 4 tablespoons of pine nuts, 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan, all the basil leaves (about 3 cups full), and zest and juice of 2 lemons. Run the processor for about 30 seconds to combine.
Scrape the sides of the food processor. Cover and run the processor again, and while it’s running, slowly drizzle the extra virgin olive oil from the top opening. Season with salt and pepper to taste
- Make the pasta and toss with Parmesan
Bring the same pot of water back to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions (mine took about 10 minutes or so). Reserve some of the pasta water before you drain it.
Return the drained pasta to the pot over medium-low heat. Add 1/4 cup pasta water, 1 cup Parmesan cheese and stir to combine (about 1 minute). Your goal is to coat the pasta with the cheese.
Remove from the heat.
- Combine the pasta with the pesto
Off heat (this is very important), add about 1/2 of the broccoli pesto to the pot of pasta (you can add a bit more than 1/2 to your liking). Toss until very well combined.(Store the rest of the pesto in the freezer for later use).
Transfer to a big serving bowl and top with the last bit of Parmesan cheese, 2 more tablespoons of pine nuts, and more lemon zest, if you like. Add a few fresh basil leaves for garnish.
Tips and notes for pesto pasta recipe
Since the star in this recipe is really the broccoli pesto, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Use cold water to wash the basil. Basil bruises easily so don’t wash it in warm water. Be sure to dry it well before using in the pesto sauce. A salad spinner can help or just wrap the basil leaves up in paper towels till nice and dry.
- Do not skip the lemon in making the broccoli pesto. Not all pesto sauces call for lemon but I think it’s a key ingredient in this recipe. Lemon zest and juice brighten up the flavor and compliment the broccoli very well. And because lemon juice contains antioxidants citric and ascorbic acids, it helps keep the basil pesto from turning dark.
- Do not toss the pesto pasta on the stove. Once the pasta is ready, and you’ve coated it with a bit of Parmesan cheese as listed in the recipe, remove it from the heat completely. Add the pesto in once the pot has been removed from heat, this will help keep the color nice and bright (remember, basil can turn dark).
- What do you do with the extra broccoli pesto? This recipe makes a generous amount of lemon broccoli pesto. You will end up using 1/2 or a little bit more of the pesto you make. Save the rest in the freezer in an air-tight container or jar to use when you have a craving for this broccoli pasta.
What nuts can be used in pesto?
Pine nuts are traditionally used in making pesto, but they can be expensive and less available than other nuts. If you need to replace the pine nuts, you can try shelled walnuts or blanched whole almonds or slivered almonds.
Which pasta is best with pesto?
With my homemade pasta sauce, I tend to use spaghetti. But for recipes like this, I tend to like short, curvy pasta like fusilli or rotini. Because they’re short, they’re easy to toss with the sauce and their curves hold on to as much of the pesto as possible so you get the perfect bite every time.
You’ll love this twist on pesto pasta with broccoli and a good splash of fresh lemon juice. Loads of flavor! And you’ll have extra pesto to freeze for later use!
- Kosher salt
- 12 ounces frozen broccoli (or 1 head broccoli, stems and florets)
- 6 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
- Zest and juice of 2 lemons, plus more for serving
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 lb short pasta like Fusilli (use Whole Wheat pasta for Mediterranean diet option)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Add the broccoli and cook until crisp tender (about 3 to 4 minutes). Use a slotted spoon to transfer the broccoli to a large bowl of ice water. Do not discard the cooking water (you will use it to cook the pasta later). Drain the broccoli and dry on a paper towel.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the broccoli, 4 tbsp of the pine nuts, 1 1/2 cups of Parmesan, the basil leaves, and lemon zest and juice. Process until combined (about 30 seconds or so). Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover and run the processor again. And while the processor is running, slowly stream in the extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Bring the same pot of water back to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions (about 10 minutes or so). Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
- Return the drained pasta to the pot over medium-low heat. Add 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese and the reserved 1/4 cup of pasta water and cook, stirring constantly, until the cheese coast the pasta (about 1 minute).
- Remove from the heat and add half of the broccoli pesto (I added a bit more than half). Toss to coat the pasta with the broccoli pesto. (Reserve extra broccoli pesto or freeze it for a later use).
- Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl. Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese, 2 tbsp pine nuts, and a little lemon zest. Garnish with a few basil leaves. Enjoy!
- Cook’s Tip: You will use only about 1/2 or a little more of the broccoli pesto. Transfer the rest to an air-tight freezer safe container or jar and freeze for later use.
- Cook’s Tip: Use whole wheat pasta if you’re following a more strict Mediterranean diet. And if you need to lighten this recipe up some more, you can omit the 1 cup of Parmesan cheese used to coat the pasta in step #4.
- Pine nut replacement: Pine nuts are your best bet for pesto, but they can be pricey and less available than other nuts. If you must replace pine nuts, try shelled walnuts (walnut hearts).
- Recommended for this recipe: quality extra virgin olive oil like our Private Reserve or Early Harvest Greek extra virgin olive oil
- Visit Our Shop for quality Mediterranean ingredients including all-natural and organic spices, olive oils and more.
- Recipe is adapted from What’s Gaby Cooking: Eat What You Want.
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: Pesto pasta, basil pesto pasta, broccoli pesto pasta, broccoli pasta