Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli Pasta Recipe

A simple pasta bowl made by tossing a whole wheat fusilli pasta, shredded spinach, and with a delicious walnut & broccoli pesto sauce.

Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli Pasta

I opened my refrigerator the other night to find a lone head of broccoli staring back at me. I stared, it stared back - neither of us blinked. I suspect he knew that if I were to ignore him for another night or two there was a trip to the compost heap on the horizon. What to do? What should I make? I've been turning just about anything puree-able in my kitchen into a pesto lately, so I thought bingo! broccoli pesto it is. While I've dabbled in a broad spectrum of pestos over the years - basil, cilantro, asparagus, artichoke, green garlic, and even a scape pesto (these are just the green ones!), broccoli pesto was a first for me. And allow me to save you some reading - the key to good, broccoli pesto is to resist the urge to overcook the broccoli. Get that right, and you're well on your way to a unique, vibrant, and tasty meal. I used a toasted walnut nuts alongside the broccoli in the pesto and served it with whole wheat pasta, a bit of spinach, a few oily black olives, and some shaved Parmesan. A reasonably-sized serving topped with two poached eggs is a new favorite, nutritious, go-to meal for me - perfect for lunch.

A bit more about pesto before we move on to the recipe itself. I love the way pestos pack an intense amount of flavor into every spoonful. They typically require a small list of ingredients, tolerate quite a bit of time in the refrigerator and, if needed, often make the jump to freezer without much trouble. In addition to using spoonfuls here and there on pastas or grains, I thin them out out to make a dressings, swirl them into soups, and stir them into yogurts or fresh cheeses. Hope you like this one :)

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Broccoli Pesto & Fusilli Pasta Recipe

You can certainly add a handful of basil to this for more traditional flavor - you'd still get the added nutritional perks from the broccoli. And by all means, feel free to cook your broccoli in a skillet with a bit of salt, olive oil, and water. This way you won't lose as many nutrients in the cooking process - the boil and drain method takes more nutrients out of the final dish. I did the boil out of convenience this time around.

1 medium head of broccoli (about 3 cups), cut into very small florets
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
1 clove of garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 teaspoon + fine grain sea salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound (8 ounces) dried whole wheat pasta (bite-sized - fusilli, penne, etc)
3 handfuls of spinach or chard, well chopped
handful of oily black olives, pitted

more Parmesan for serving

Bring two pots of water to a boil, one large, one medium. In the medium pot you'll cook the broccoli, the large can be used for the pasta.

To cook the broccoli, salt the boiling water and add the broccoli. Cook for just twelve seconds. Drain immediately and run cold water over the broccoli to stop the cooking. Reserve a few of the small broccoli trees and puree the rest in a food processor along with the walnuts, Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice and salt. Drizzle in the olive oil while still blending. Taste, adjust with more salt or lemon juice if needed and set aside.

To cook the pasta, salt the boiling water generously and add the pasta. Boil until just barely tender. Drain, transfer the hot pasta to a large bowl and stir in the spinach, it should wilt. Gently stir in about half of the pesto. Taste, add more pesto to your liking. Served topped with olives, the reserved broccoli florets, and a dusting of Parmesan cheese.

Makes about 6 side servings.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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I just had my first pesto of the year last night -- I probably should have waited, but I cut back enough basil leaves (from my, oh, 14 or so basil plants) to make some. It tastes like spring to me. You're right about it making the transition to freezer -- I still have cubes left from last year's pesto, but I wanted bright, startlingly fresh basil flavor in mine. I'm with you on the whole wheat pasta -- it adds a depth of flavor that you just can't get from refined,

Becky And The Beanstock

Sharyn, it might just have been a bad batch of walnuts. Did you try any of them raw? They can go rancid rather quickly, and then they're just horrible.


Im in Canada and we have an abundance of broccoli right now. This recipe is exactly what I needed for the large head sitting in my fridge.


Broccoli pesto?? BRILLIANT!! Great variation on one of my favorite hearty sauces/spreads; and PERFECT for a summertime pasta dish :0)


Broccoli pesto is great-been a favorite of ours for years. I like the idea of keeping out some florets to scatter on top.


I'm a bit of a pesto freak myself----and my freezer is loaded with several varieties at any given time. Never thought of broccoli before----what a fantastic idea, and a totally mouthwatering recipe!! To the person who wrote about roasted broccoli------awesome idea----I'm going to try it asap. I might try it on the grill too---since in summer I grill EVERYTHING. :)

The Secret Ingredient

Yay! My aging broccoli thanks you; I thank you. Dinner tonight! :)


I've made a pasta dish similar to this but with little florets of broccoli. I never thought of the broccoli being the main ingredient in the pesto. by the way, what is a scape pesto? HS: Look for garlic scapes in the market in spring. In SNC I included a recipe for garlic scape soup - it's one of my alltime favorites.

The Spotted Apron

What a coincidence. I was re-reading Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking last night and she has a 'disguise the veggie' ploy - using pureed broccoli as a sauce for pasta. Right on the heels of thinking, "what a great idea" comes your suggestion to take it a bit further. Between the two of you, I should have a grand time transforming my 'on sale' broc this week!


Heidi, I adore pesto, especially the basil kind. I just got a good garlic scape pesto yesterday and now a great broccoli one. Thank you for sharing and I will definitely try this one. Doddie

Doddie from Korea

I try to avoid pasta - for some reason it seems to go straight to my gut. But I'd love a new broccoli recipe! Do you think this would work with brown rice instead?


Its a very interesting combination. I hardly know what to do with my Broccoli, other than in the occasional stir fry. I definitely want to try it. But can I substitute hazelnuts for walnuts?


This looks lovely. The other night I had gnocchi with pesto, sausage and walnut. I fried the walnuts with the sausages and mushrooms...but they were so sour and horrible that I had to pick them out before serving. I guess this was because I didnt toast them in the oven first? I must admit, I am particularily cruel to my broccoli. Ever since I started roasting it in the oven with olive oil till it is a bit singed at the edges I havent looked back. Adding things like aubergine, mushroom, onion, garlic and anything like that, roast it to death with your favorite herbs and stirring it into pasta with tomato puree is a dead easy pleaser and good for picnics. Sorry, probably stating the obvious for you! Really enjoy your site. S


hi, ist really beautyful your recype I have been try that heavenly pie, ohh its really delicious and thank you very much, and keep up a good work. ANNA in Australia.

Anna Jeffries

Further to Rose's comment, here in Greece getting broccoli in June is impossible or low quality/high price. Keep us locovores in mind. Michael

michael bash

Further to Rose's comment, here in Greece getting broccoli in June is impossible or low quality/high price. Keep us locovores in mind. Michael

michael bash

Further to Rose's comment, here in Greece getting broccoli in June is impossible or low quality/high price. Keep us locovores in mind. Michael

michael bash

I live overseas, so sometimes there are ingredients that are hard to find (tofu) or impossible to get; this recipe will be so great to try because I can get everything easily. Thanks for sharing!


Yum! That sounds fantastic, I'm going to try it tomorrow.


"Cook for just twelve seconds." Heidi, you're amazing.


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