5 Ingredients or Fewer

Pasta With Broccoli-Cheddar Sauce

January  2, 2020
19 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Yossy Arefi.
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 16 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

Inspired by kale sauce—which has been popularized by the likes of Ruth Rogers, Joshua McFadden, and Jamie Oliver—this broccoli sauce is little more than broccoli. Just how I like it.

You cook a couple crowns in a pot of very, very salty water until it's tender and bright. Add this to a blender with grated cheddar (hopefully one that's sharp and funky), plus some pasta water to thin things out. Did I mention that we're cooking pasta in the same pot that the broccoli was in? We are. The result is a silky smooth, highly vegetal sauce that—thanks to the fondue-y cheese—sidesteps feeling too pure. Pour it onto hot pasta and dinner is done.

The pasta shape is totally up to you: You could opt for cavatappi or penne or lumache or fusilli. You could even go rogue and pick a longer shape, like spaghetti or fettuccine or pappardelle (I personally prefer a shorter variety here—but it's not my meal, it's yours). You'll note that I call for whole-wheat pasta, which is my go-to at home. I like its whole-grain vibe and nutty flavor. Of course, if white is your default, go with that. The broccoli sauce is happy either way.

This is one of our Big Little Recipes, as part of our weekly column all about minimalist cooking and baking. Each recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. —Emma Laperruque

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Pasta With Broccoli-Cheddar Sauce
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 18 to 20 ounces broccoli (about 3 small crowns or 2 medium ones)
  • 1 3/4 ounces (50 grams) sharp white cheddar, grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
  • 1 pound short-shaped whole-wheat pasta (or white if you strongly prefer)
  1. Fill a very large pot with about 5 quarts water, then set on the stove over high heat to come to a boil. Add the 4 tablespoons salt.
  2. When the water is boiling, add the broccoli, and cook for about 8 minutes. When it’s done, the broccoli should be bright green with tender-ish stalks. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer the broccoli to a blender.
  3. Bring the water back to a boil and add the pasta. Set a timer for 8 minutes.
  4. After 2 to 3 minutes, once the pasta has released some of its starch (thickening powers!), pull ⅔ cup water and add to the blender, along with the ½ cup grated cheddar. Leave the keyhole in the blender lid open, cover with a thick kitchen towel and firm grip, and blend on high speed until a super-smooth sauce forms. Give it a taste. More cheese? More salt? Add what’s needed.
  5. When the pasta timer goes off, taste a noodle—it should be somewhere between toothsome and tender. Use a sieve or spider to transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl (we want to reserve that water!). Add the broccoli-cheddar sauce to the pasta and gently toss. Add small splashes of broccoli-pasta water to sight (I added about 3 tablespoons), until it reaches a thickness you like (keep in mind that it will thicken as it sits). Taste again and adjust the salt accordingly.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Alissa Reitter
    Alissa Reitter
  • Laura Nolan
    Laura Nolan
  • Heather Akers
    Heather Akers
  • FrugalCat
  • Kevin Stradinger
    Kevin Stradinger
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

30 Reviews

Alissa R. February 12, 2021
I followed this recipe exactly (minus the salt) and it was fantastic! So simple. I sort of can’t believe some of these not so great reviews, I wonder if the blender has something to do with it? My sauce was amazingly creamy with my ninja blender. Will make again, great way to have your veggies!
Claudia E. January 13, 2021
Liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I used brown rice pasta and upped the cheese a bit. Don’t underestimate the need for that pasta water! Mine looked like a swampy mess, but it set up into a giant bowl of delicious luscious sauce.
Laura N. September 26, 2020
I just made this and, like many others, found it to be too bland. The sauce was interesting and had a fun, almost spongy, texture. But I couldn't see any way to make it something I'd want to eat. Sorry!
emma September 24, 2020
I love the idea of this but it's kind of bland as written. Admittedly I used frozen broccoli instead of fresh, so maybe that increased the water content? Still I think the problem is in the recipe itself. Maybe taking a page from the food lab's broccoli cheddar soup and sauteeing half the broccoli first in order to get more depth of flavor wouldn't hurt. I also think 50 grams of cheese for a pound of pasta is stingy. I've made it twice and both times has required what my mother unfailingly refers to as "doctoring up". White vs whole wheat pasta wasn't a big variable (tried both ways), increasing cheese and using full amt of salt still wasn't enough to provide excitement. Lacks both acid (maybe a little lemon juice) and depth of flavor -- a sauteed onion, or sauteed broccoli, or parmigiano for umami, or, as I did, just some MSG will help. I'll probably use it as a base for my own cooking in the future, because the convenience and amount of veg is hard to argue with, but BYO flavor. My husband loves it, but he's not picky.
Gabriela September 3, 2020
Easy and delicious. I added (a little too much) fresh garlic and half a jalapeño for flavor.
Darian February 19, 2020
This was great - it was like a mash-up of broccoli cheddar soup (but oh so velvety and smooth!) and mac-n-cheese. Super quick and easy and delicious to boot!
Heather A. February 12, 2020
I loved this so much, and I'm a confirmed omnivore. The greenness of the sauce made it one of the more alarming-looking things I've ever put on a plate, but also one of the most purely, vegetally delicious. Be sure to use kosher, not table salt, or be very sorry. The recipe is genius: the pectin in the stems, blended with pasta water & sharp cheddar, gives you the velvetiest imaginable sauce. I plunked in a big spoonful of crème fraîche and regretted nothing. Do opt for the whole wheat pasta; it made the dish. A sublime weeknight dinner.
Emma L. February 13, 2020
Always love me some crème fraîche!
FrugalCat February 11, 2020
Also good with cauliflower!
Kevin S. February 6, 2020
Tasty as heck and I've decided it's also healthy. I'd like to try throwing some frozen peas in the sauce to sweeten it up a touch
trsw14 February 2, 2020
So simple yet so delicious! Can’t wait to add to the dinner rotation. A little salty for me so I’ll cut back the salt a little next time.
Kelsey L. February 1, 2020
This recipe is amazing! Broccoli is a vegetable I like, but I've never had it puréed before today. I've also never had broccoli with cheddar cheese. The first time won't be my last.
golden M. January 21, 2020
Wow! What an easy and delicious recipe! I used Cavatappi pasta and 16 ounces of frozen broccoli. Used Cabot lite 50 sharp cheddar cheese and put in a it of parmesan. This is definitely a keeper. Thank you!
tanimags January 18, 2020
I loved the simplicity of this recipe for a quick evening meal. Who doesn’t like broccoli and cheese to together. I cut the recipe in half, including the salt. But oh my gosh, simply way to salty for my taste. Will def. make again but with way less salt.
JP January 17, 2020
Yummy! After reading other reviews I added sautéed onion and garlic and pepper. I used 1/2 the salt called for. And most importantly I used lots of smoked Gouda. Going to try it next time with cauliflower and pepper jack.
Regine February 6, 2020
Recipe asks for Kosher salt which is not as salty as regular salt. I once prepared a dish that asked for Kosher salt, with regular salt, and it was way too salty. Maybe those that say that this dish was too salty mistakenly used regular instead of Kosher salt?
Cara K. January 16, 2020
OMG, this is amazing! I just made it this evening for our family dinner but have not been able to keep my fork out of the bowl! I made it exactly as written (although pureed in my food processor instead of a blender) and added some fresh cracked black pepper. I was hesitant thinking I would need to add more cheese (or perhaps a drizzle of olive oil) but I usually follow recipes exactly first then adapt if necessary. It does not need either of these things (although I may add a drizzle on each serving plate). I did not find the dish over salty at all - I'm wondering if the one reviewer used the full amount of water called for to help dilute the final product? Anyhow, thank you! I'm thinking adding shredded cooked chicken with a bit more of the pasta water would make a complete protein full meal - or poured into a casserole dish with an additional sprinkling of cheddar and baked for a bit!
Cara K. January 16, 2020
Quick update - just served it with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Amazing!
Annie January 16, 2020
Why do you need to remove the stopper from the blender?
Emma L. January 16, 2020
Hi! The steam from the broccoli and hot water could cause the lid to blow off (sending broccoli sauce all over your kitchen), so this lets the steam escape and keeps the lid secure.
Steve K. January 13, 2020
Wow! I can't believe how salty this was. I think this recipe has possibilities but as written it went straight into the trash. I'll try it again with maybe 1 tablespoon of salt and some garlic. I think a little basil might help also.
Gibson2011 January 12, 2020
I really wanted to like this recipe, but no luck. I blended the life out of the broccoli, but the sauce still had a definite this-is-broccoli-soup texture to it. Maybe I could have gotten my family to eat it if I had put it in a casserole dish, scattered breadcrumbs on it, and baked it.
C F. January 11, 2020
This looks tasty & pretty healthy -- but I have a couple of questions:
Could you use frozen broccoli? Could you use a food processor instead of a blender?

I like the suggestion of adding garlic in with the broccoli and may cook broccoli first, then use the same water for the pasta. Food 52 commenters have great suggestions!
Maggie January 18, 2020
I see no reason why you couldn't/shouldn't do either of those things. I've made similar purees with frozen broccoli with no loss of flavor/texture, and if the broccoli is soft enough, the food processor should work just fine (as should an immersion blender in a quart measuring cup or wide-mouth canning jar, which is my pureeing setup of choice).
Rachel O. January 10, 2020
I made a double batch of this last night. My family loved it! I told my little ones we could call it “Alien mac ‘n cheese.” They were delighted by it and I loved how simple and delicious it was on a busy weeknight. Leftovers were great warmed up with a bit more water added. Will be a go-to for us.
Emma L. January 11, 2020
Alien mac 'n cheese!! This is what I'll call it from now on too. So glad your family enjoyed!