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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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!


Heidi, 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? Thanks, Karen 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 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 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.

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