Burnt Broccoli Pesto

March  3, 2022
14 Ratings
Photo by Carolina Gelen
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Serves 1¾ cups
Author Notes

Charring vegetables is an easy way to get two different flavors from one ingredient: the familiar earthy sweetness, plus a complex, savory, nutty boost from all the charred bits. This technique makes a world of difference in this simple pesto, where basil steps back from the spotlight and broccoli takes center stage. I initially tried roasted broccoli, but with every test, the broccoli would always turn into mush. I wanted to have a rustic texture, with some larger broccoli bits scattered throughout. The solution? Char the broccoli, then quickly steam it in a skillet. This way, the broccoli keeps its bite and shape, yielding a sauce with more personality. While this works well with pasta (it makes enough for 1 pound of dried noodles), don’t hesitate to branch out: Spread it on sandwiches, pair it with some hard-boiled or scrambled eggs, use it as a base for pizzas or flatbreads, dollop it over oatmeal or rice. Have fun with it. And let me know how you would put this pesto to good use in the comments. —Carolina Gelen

What You'll Need
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Burnt Broccoli Pesto
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 8 ounces broccoli florets (about 1 medium head)
  • 1/4 cup raw nuts (small, such as pine nuts, or chopped, such as walnuts)
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1 cup (100 grams) finely grated Parmesan
  • 1 handful basil leaves (or another tender herb, like parsley or dill)
  1. Drizzle the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the broccoli florets to the pan and weigh them down using a grill press or another heavy skillet. Char the broccoli for 4 to 6 minutes, without moving it, until the broccoli is burnt and charred in spots.
  2. Use a wooden spoon to toss the broccoli, then pour in ½ cup of water. Cover the pan with a lid or sheet pan and steam the broccoli florets for 7 to 10 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated and the broccoli is bright green and fork-tender.
  3. Using a mortar and pestle, blender, or food processor, process the nuts, garlic, pepper, and salt until smooth. Add the Parmesan, basil, and ⅓ cup of oil and blend until smooth. Add the charred broccoli and process until roughly blended (leave some chunkier bits in there for texture).

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Carolina is a resident at Food52. She's also one of the hosts of Choose Your Own Recipe Adventure, our YouTube show where our Food52 readers pick the ingredients and techniques for a brand new recipe. Carolina recently immigrated to the U.S. from Transylvania, a place she spent most of her life. She continues to get inspired by the classic Romanian and Hungarian foods she was raised on, creating approachable, colorful, and fun recipes. For more cooking ideas and candid moments, check out her Instagram @carolinagelen.

7 Reviews

Very bland. Would not make it again.
Anne E. May 2, 2023
I read the previous reviews and decreased the garlic to 2 cloves. I used chicken broth instead of water for the broccoli and used lemon juice over the pesto for brightness. I also saved 1/2 cup pasta water as my pesto was pretty thick. Served with garlic cheese sausage and salad-soooo good!
dxnc March 21, 2022
Taste-wise, this is great. However, the texture was really gritty due to the burnt pieces. Am I doing something wrong?
argaman March 19, 2022
I made this and it was amazing! Only issue for me was that the 3 garlic cloves were a bit too much. Maybe that was because I had only a small floret of broccoli. So if you don't have a lot of brocoli, use less garlic. Another tip from my side: add the pesto to the pasta right after you drained it, so the pasta + pot are still warm. That way, the cheese in the pesto melts a little bit.
Alen M. March 10, 2022
love the idea to make a pesto with broccoli and also make it burnt, brilliant!
Sarah G. March 7, 2022
This pesto was delicious! I decided to roast my broccoli in the oven (400° for 20 min) to get it charred. Only because I felt lazy and didn’t want to use my cast iron. It came out great. I also used parsley not basil cause I had it in my fridge. The charred broccoli flavor is so good! The raw garlic flavor was super intense so I cooked the pesto a bit before adding the pasta water & hot pasta. It was very yummy & enough for leftover lunch tomorrow too!
Liv23 March 6, 2022
Wow I’m so exited to try this it sounds amazing!! Reminds me of my childhood eating burnt broccoli pizza at Christmas markets 😭