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
Watch This Recipe
Pasta With Broccoli-Cheddar Sauce
4 to 6
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
short-shaped whole-wheat pasta (or white if you strongly prefer)
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.
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.
Bring the water back to a boil and add the pasta. Set a timer for 8 minutes.
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.
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.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.