Broccoli pesto makes a beautiful pasta sauce. This recipe is not too difficult, and it yields something that is deeply satisfying. The broccoli stems (arguably the best part of broccoli) get sliced, sauteed, and folded in with the pasta.
Feel free to use a different cheese than smoked mozzarella (although the smokiness of this cheese works really well in the dish), and use a different shape than mezzi rigatoni if you want.
- Serves 4
broccoli (should yield approximately 5 cups of florets)
olive oil, plus more for cooking the broccoli
Freshly ground black pepper
toasted pine nuts
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
mezzi rigatoni (or your favorite shape of dried pasta)
- Separate the broccoli florets from the stems. Save the stems—you will use them later. The florets should be cut into bite-size pieces. Transfer the broccoli florets to a large mixing bowl, and drizzle with enough olive oil to barely coat the florets. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Transfer the broccoli florets to the baking sheet, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and broil them until they begin to turn brown and crispy around the edges. Keep a close eye on the broccoli to prevent it from burning. Everyone’s broiler is different, so this step may take anywhere from 2-5 minutes. Set the cooked florets aside until they are cool enough to handle.
- Transfer the broccoli florets to the food processor. Add the ¾ cup of olive oil, along with the garlic cloves, pine nuts, lemon zest and juice, and pecorino romano. Pulse until everything comes together. Do not over-process the pesto, you do not want a purée. Tiny pieces of the broccoli should be visible. Taste the pesto and adjust with salt, pepper, and/or lemon as necessary. Note that this pesto can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.
- Using a vegetable peeler, shave away the fibrous outside layer of the broccoli stems. You could also use a paring knife to carefully cut away the outside layer of the broccoli stems. To test whether you have peeled away enough of the outside layer of the stem, cut off a small piece of the stem and taste it. It should taste crisp and fresh. If it is fibrous and hard to chew, peel off more of the stem and try again. Cut the stems into thin slivers about 1/4-inch thick. Set a medium skillet over medium heat, and add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the skillet. When the oil is hot, add the broccoli stems. Cook them, stirring occasionally until they begin to brown on the outside. Remove them from the heat, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and set them aside.
- Heat the oven to 450° F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt to the boiling water until it tastes salty like the ocean. Add your pasta. Cook according to the instructions on the box, except undercook your pasta by 1 to 2 minutes. Strain the pasta from the boiling water, and dress it in the broccoli pesto. Fold in the sautéed broccoli stems. Using a box grater, grate half of the smoked mozzarella, and fold it into the pasta. Using a knife, cut the remaining smoked mozzarella into thin medallions. Transfer the pasta to a baking dish, and top with the medallions of smoked mozzarella. Bake at 450° F until the cheese begins to melt and brown, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pasta from the oven. Serve and enjoy.