Pesto Pasta is a favorite in our house, but unless you have a garden, abundant basil is hard to come by. This Broccoli Sunflower Pesto Pasta is a solution to all of that! It uses only the tiny container of basil they sell at the grocery and the parboiled broccoli fills up the rest with flavor for a perfect, saucy pesto pasta situation. Plus it’s nut free!
There’s nothing like a new pasta shape to inspire you to cook something new. When I saw this Casarecce at the grocery, I pounced on it. The curled up edges were perfect for holding pesto. You could use any short pasta shape like mezze rigate, penne, shells, or orecchiette. Anything that will hold onto the pesto nicely will work.
I love using sunflower seeds in pesto. They’re cheap and perfect for when you’re in a pinch. You could also use walnuts or pine nuts here, but I just had a bunch of sunflower seeds I needed to use. One of the keys to making this pasta great is heavily salting your pasta water. I used three tablespoons. Then the broccoli is seasoned from the beginning, and the pasta, which is cooked in the same water, absorbs some of the salt and has more flavor.
It only takes 30 minutes to make this start to finish, so this will be a keeper in our house. This is adapted from Jenny Rosenstrach’s recipe on Cup of Jo.
See the full recipe below.
- 2 small crowns of broccoli, or one large head of broccoli
- 2 oz parmesan
- ¼ cup shelled, unsalted, sunflower seeds
- 1 handful fresh basil leaves (about ¼ cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil
- kosher salt and black pepper
- juice of half a lemon
- 12 oz short pasta like casarecce
- 2 tbsp butter
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil (about 4 quarts of water and 4 tbsp kosher salt).
- Cut off the large stem of the broccoli crowns then cut into 1 inch florets. Once the water is boiling, add the broccoli florets, boiling for just 1 minute. Remove them using a slotted spoon or skimmer to a bowl. Let them cool for 3 minutes.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water. Follow the package directions and boil until al dente.
- Meanwhile, cut the parmesan into cubes and add them to a food processor. Blend on high until the parmesan is like dust. Remove 2 tablespoons of the parmesan and set aside for garnishing, leaving the rest in the food processor. Add half the broccoli along with the sunflower seeds, basil, garlic, a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and the juice of half a lemon. Run the food processor on high and gradually drizzle the olive oil through the vent until you have a coarse pesto. Taste for salt.
- Reserve a cup of the pasta water. Remove your pasta pot from heat, drain the pasta, then put it directly back into the pot. Add all of the pesto and the butter along with a splash of pasta water. Stir continuously, adding a little pasta water at a time until the pasta is coated and the sauce is the consistency you like it. Serve topped with the extra parmesan.