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.

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you have nice recipes online for peple like to cook . i love to cook i like try new things for my family . do ypu have any fun recipes for kids to help with?
oklahoma citydebera


Awesome…One again Heidi, you’ve inspired me to eat healthier. I can’t wait for an opportunity to make this for myself. (I’ll bet it goes beautifully with a glass of chilled chardonnay!)


what a great idea – have some broccoli staring at me too…


This was absolutely fantastic. So easy even I could make it. I’m 3 for 3 delicious results from your recipes. Thanks so much!


I bet we could do something similar with Brussel Sprouts and you better believe I will try it.


I love pasta dishes, especially ones the ones that use up leftovers, but taste like a perfectly planned meal.


I’ve worked for Italians for 10 years now and I have tried to cook many of the dishes that we have at work. I have to say that the only ones I have not mastered yet are the marinara and pesto sauce. I look forward to trying this recipe. I think my family will enjoy it.

Micheal P

I’ve worked for Italians for 10 years now and I have tried to cook many of the dishes that we have at work. I have to say that the only ones I have not mastered yet are the marinara and pesto sauce. I look forward to trying this recipe. I think my family will enjoy it.

Micheal P

That broccoli pesto looks good!


Hi Heidi, great recipe as always! I recently made a delicious pesto using cavalo nero, toasted cashew nuts, new season garlic, lemon and goat’s feta. The black cabbage needs a good twenty minute cook in stock to bring out it’s colour and flavour and I recommend removing all stalk before cooking and shredding the glossy leaves. Serve with homemade papparedelle, bruschetta or topping crispy sauteed potatoes..yum!


How did you know it was a he.


Hello (a lurker here). This post made me think of one of my favorites, Collard Green Olive Pesto… it is really amazing with whole wheat pasta, and is perfect for all of the collards available at the winter markets (at least in Seattle). Brine cured green olives, a smidge of balsamic, and some cayenne make it delicious! Thought I’d share.


Very funny 🙂


I have all of the above, seemingly-unrelated ingredients in my fridge RIGHT NOW!!
My husband and I WILL have dinner tonight!
thanks, Heidi!


Love how you make your dishes look BOTH healthy and decadent. Mine just look plain decadent. I don’t think I could pull of both – and you do it beautifully.


My broccoli and I are having the same stare-down–thank you for the perfect solution. I think I could even cross the line from tolerating to actually liking broccoli with this recipe.


thanks for this recipe, we also made it last night with some parsley in with the broccoli…yum! great way to eat a lot of green goodness without trying 🙂


I made this recipe yesterday night. I really enjoyed it. It was my first official meal that I made since becoming a vegetarian which was also yesterday. I think that I put a little too much garlic in it though. Awesome recipe


mmmmm…can’t wait to try a new pesto. Sounds delish.
And going back to the Heavenly Pie post–So excited to see a recipe from Country Wisdom and Know-How…It is an all-time favorite book of mine and a gift I’ve given numerous times. (Although it takes a special person to appreciate the porcupine recipes!)
Thanks for having such a great site.


Thanks for an easy one!
I can find all of these ingredients in mexico in small up coming town.
Except for the whole wheat pasta.
But we managed with elbow pasta.
It was great!

spot on

In Super Natural Cooking, the only dog-eared cookbook in my kitchen, you share with your readers your straw and hay fettucine tangle, which calls for an asparagus pesto-type puree. Well, I didn’t have any asparagus but really wanted to make the dish, so I used broccoli instead, and it turned out AMAZING!!! Thanks for the inspiration and reminding one and all that healthy food can taste delicious!
P.S. Heidi, sometime soon, can you share with us your non-green pesto recipes? I’m stumped beyond roasted red peppers and sundried tomatoes…I was thinking carrots might work, but am not sure where to venture after that. Thanks!
HS:Thanks Leslie, I love to hear that my recipes are finding their way into the day-to-day cooking of people. I do have an idea for another unique pesto, I’ll post here (if it turns out)…


Ok, so I realize that I’m about a year late, but I made your “savory asparagus bread pudding” and it was SOO good I just had to tell you. I am definitely making this next….love your blog as always!


Yum! I need to try this this week! I love broccoli!


Hi Heidi!
I’ve been lurking here for a while, and LOVE your recipes. One thing…what kind of camera do you use for your photography? The shots are always brilliant.
HS: Hi Chris, thanks! If you do a search up above for “food photography” you’ll find a post i did about it – needs to be updated, but still covers the basics.

Chris Jenkins

Re the seasonal thing – I’m in Australia where winter is now arriving but I still get plenty of northern hemisphere visitors to my website in search of what’s seasonal for them. Michael should just bookmark recipes he likes into season folders for when his local produce is at its best. As Ruby notes, we write for our own locales.
I’m just waiting for the pine mushrooms to come in… And any asparagus we can buy currently comes from the US. I prefer to wait for my local spring for that.


I had something so similar to this for lunch today. I’d like to try this, though, it has a few ingredients I never once thought to add. thanks, heidi!


You’re a brave woman, Heidi….
I like the thought that your head of broccoli was male – sitting round, useless, desperately hoping to be rescued from the compost heap 🙂


What a perfect combo. I’m never sure what to do about chard that comes from our organic delivery… this is a great idea. I bet my kid will think so too!


What a perfect combo. I’m never sure what to do about chard that comes from our organic delivery… this is a great idea. I bet my kid will think so too!


My 7-year-old goes gaga for pesto. In fact, he even old planted ‘pesto’ (basil, in his personal lexicon) in our little box-garden this year. You can bet this version will enter our meal rotation sooner rather than later.


Heidi, your site and fellow bloggers have really opened my eyes to so many new things, so for this, I thank you!
This looks fantastic. I am going to have to invest in a food processor so I can make pesto.


Heidi, you can’t please everyone. Sorry if you can’t get stuff in season overseas, but Heidi is writing this column for HER locale and HER season…The world is not one size fits all. Let’s just appreciate her amazing talents!


Yum! That sounds very good! Will definitely have to give this one a try!

Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet

Really appreciate your site. We have several in our family, including me, who have allergies and are now on a yeast free diet. How would you thin the pesto for a dressing? Would you do oil or broth or what?
HS: You can try a bunch of different things. A bit of plain yogurt, or warm water, more oil, etc, etc. 🙂


I love your blog, your photography, your recipes. I hate the awful “kitchen” in my apartment. In fact, I will be moving when my lease runs out for that sole purpose. As soon as I’ve relocated, I will finally take it upon myself to start trying your delectable recipes.


I’ll be trying this–with brown rice pasta, though. I’m likely to steam the broccoli, but if you’re boiling it, why not boil the pasta in the broccoli water? Then at least your pasta will absorb some of the nutrients. With the added benefit of only dirtying one pot…
HS: Brown rice would make a great alternative.
And re: the double pots – I actually thought about doing and one pot version but didn’t want to have to fish the florets out of the pasta water before boiling the orzo. You could totally go that route though!


Wow! Its actually really good!
Thank you!


what a great idea…so many different pesto, i’m lovin’ it. once the picture upload, my stomach moved, i’m soooo cravin’ this dish 🙂 i like the compost idea too…lol…i don’t like to waste food, i think that good, but i know not all sorts of items can go in.. right?


I make pesto with lacinato/dinosaur kale. Just blanch it before pureeing, just like with the broccoli.


re: pesto and freezing — every fall I harvest all the basil from my garden and turn it into a massive batch of pesto. it freezes very well if you leave out the nuts and cheese, and add them back in after thawing. (but thaw carefully; i always microwave it for too long and it gets hot — yuck!) this way we have good, fresh pesto all year round.
i haven’t been experimental with pesto since i love basil pesto SO much, but broccoli sounds like a good place to start.


I can’t believe broccoli would lose too many nutrients if you only boil it for twelve seconds.


Fabulous. I love the asparagus pesto in your book Heidi so I’m sure this will be really tasty.
The asparagus version is really good on toast with a poached egg on the top, so I’m sure that would work well for this version too


I LOVE broccoli pesto – this version looks fantastic. Thanks!


That looks healthy and easy: a good combination. Congratulations, I think I will try this, as I love pesto.


Delicious! Love the black olives with the broccoli. Also love the poached eggs!


Ah, yes, that head of broccoli sitting in the fridge …I know it well. The last one turned into a raw broccoli, avocado almond soup! Pesto is another great idea. Maybe blended produce is the new black.

Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?

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!


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 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.


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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