I have been cooking and writing about food for decades, and there is still one thing that still makes me irrationally happy …
When I manage to take a very basic, modest ingredient and turn it into a delicious dinner. I mean, of course, it’s amazing when I’m lucky enough to have, say, top spring pizza baking ramps or juicy summer tomatoes to whirl into the transcendent Gazpacho. But that kind of cooking is simple – to some extent these ingredients do most of the work; we have to be smart enough to step back and let them shine.
Instead, to find a way to make something to remember cabbage in the supermarket or rotten products? It feels like another kind of pleasure – perhaps because such dinners are accompanied by a meal of frugality and therefore virtue.
In any case! I was there last week. It seemed to me like I had nothing in the kitchen except a pile of broccoli that was a few minutes away from not being repairable. So I put on my coat and went to work turning the flowers into spaghetti pesto. I realize I didn’t invent anything new here, but I didn’t really have a plan. I knew I wanted to mix the broccoli in a blender, I knew it was going to need a little lemon and perfume shine, and I knew I needed olive oil, which is why that spachoho up there was so delicious. The resulting sauce was so delicious, now I have a new favorite dinner.
Pasta with broccoli pesto
I like that this whole recipe takes place in one pot (plus one blender) and that the pasta boils in the same water as the broccoli. If you have more pine nuts, toasted toppings would be great in this.
Trimmed 5 cups broccoli (from 1 large bundle)
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more to serve
1 clove garlic, pressed
3 young onions (only white and light green parts), coarsely chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup grated parmesan (vegetarian parma for storing this vegetable), plus more for serving
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about half a large lemon)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound pasta (I like to use spaghetti or fettuccini, but any pasta will work)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
red pepper flakes to serve to taste
Boil a large pot of salt water (at least 10 cups). Add the broccoli and simmer for 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon, take out 2 cups of broccoli, place on a cutting board and leave to cool. Saute the remaining broccoli for another minute. Turn off the heat, take out 1/4 cup of the broccoli water, and then use a spoon to remove the remaining broccoli from the pot into the blender jar.
In a blender, add olive oil, garlic, spring onions, pine nuts, parmesan, lemon juice, salt and pepper and a tablespoon or two of reserved water. Stir until it emulsifies and becomes thick (you want it to be easy to pour, dilute from the milk drink), using reserved water as needed.
Return the pot of water from the broccoli to a boil and add the pasta, cooking according to the instructions on the package until it becomes al dente. Strain the pasta, then add back to the pot and pour over the butter to prevent sticking.
Drizzle the broccoli pesto by tossing the tongs as you go. You want the pasta to be coated, but not shiny – about 1/2 to 3/4 cup, you may be left with leftover pesto. (See the rest of the note below.) Chop the reserved broccoli into 1-inch pieces (including stalks) and toss in the pot. Serve in bowls with more Parma, a shake of red pepper flakes, more black pepper and a drop of olive oil.
Use the remaining pesto as a crudité sauce, topped with rice, poured into soups or topped with roasted vegetables.