Lightened-Up Broccoli Pesto Pasta

Confession: there is nothing I love more in this world than a delicious, rich pasta dish. After a long day, I just want to curl up with a warm, comforting bowl of pesto. The issue is that I'm a liiiiittle bit of a pesto snob. Store-bought pesto doesn't have that bold olive oil flavor that I love, but most recipes I've tried are actually a bit too oily for my taste.

Enter: broccoli pesto. This recipe replaces some of the oil in traditional pesto with surprisingly creamy broccoli, making for a heartier, healthier, and more complete meal. Bonus: it doesn't even require fresh basil (what?!?!). I know. This pesto is made from entirely pantry ingredients: spinach, garlic, lemon, Parmesan, almonds, olive oil, a big spoonful of Italian seasoning, and–of course–broccoli. It's loaded with so much flavor and texture, I promise you won't miss its oilier cousin.

The best part: this pasta recipe's on the table in just about 20 minutes.

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Everything on is made using our 50-ingredient minimalist pantry list. We have recipes from all over the world and for most dietary needs—explore here.

Lightened-Up Broccoli Pesto Pasta Recipe

This creamy pesto pasta has all of the flavor but only half the oil of its more-traditional counterpart.

Makes: 4 servings

Lightened-Up Broccoli Pesto Pasta Recipe

Prep time:

Cook time:

  • ½ pound pasta (we used penne rigate; small shapes like orecchiette tend to be best for pesto)
  • 1 ½ cups broccoli florets
  • 1 cup spinach, loosely packed
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced (about 3 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons almonds, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste

  1. Prepare pasta according to package instructions, reserving about ½ cup of pasta water before draining.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, steam the broccoli in the microwave. Either steam frozen broccoli according to package instructions, or—if fresh—place the broccoli in a covered, microwave-safe container with two tablespoons of water and microwave on high for three-four minutes. Allow to cool for at least one-two minutes.
  3. Place the spinach, Italian seasoning, garlic, lemon juice, almonds, Parmesan, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender with a food processor attachment.
  4. Add a small splash (two tablespoons) of pasta water to the food processor with the steamed broccoli, and process on high until the pesto mixture is creamy but not completely smooth. It should be at least a bit gritty.
  5. Combine the pasta and pesto, adding an additional splash of pasta water if necessary to coat the pasta evenly. Serve with additional Parmesan if desired.

Notes and Nutrition Information

  • This recipe is best prepared and served fresh. The pesto will start to oxidize and discolor fairly quickly, so if you have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator and eat them the next day at the latest.

  • For pesto with a bit of a kick, feel free to add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce.

  • This recipe is written for pesto pasta, but broccoli pesto has many other applications. For example, use it as a sandwich condiment, serve it as a sauce for chicken or fish, top a salad with it, or drizzle it over some tomatoes and cheese as an appetizer.

  • One fourth of the recipe as written contains approximately 375 calories, 16 grams of fat, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 118 milligrams of sodium.