Creamy Broccoli Pesto

Even though we’re dead in the middle of the holidays now with parties to plan, shopping to do, and gifts to wrap, there are still hungry mouths to feed on a busy week night.  Holidays or no, we’ve all still got to eat dinner, and this is the time of year when I rely heavily on my list of quick and easy go-to meals. 

In order for a recipe to make the cut and qualify for a coveted spot on this list, it has to be a serious multitasker, which means it must not only be easy to throw together and require very little time and effort, it HAS to be scrumptious, healthy, and use ingredients that I almost always have on hand.  As you can imagine, this is a rather short list, but it just got longer by one recipe… this creamy broccoli pesto.

This is some seriously good stuff, people.  Even if it didn’t qualify in every way for my short list of easy weeknight go-to meals, I might just add it anyway because it’s impressively versatile and amazingly delicious. It, of course, makes a killer pasta sauce, but it’s also delicious on fish or chicken or as a crostini topping (see, I told you those roasted tomatoes would be showing up again).  Stir it into your favorite veggie soup or top your scrambled eggs or spread some on your turkey sandwich… you are limited only by your imagination. 

There are many recipes for creamy broccoli pesto circulating out there, but this is my version, and you can tell it’s my version because there is no actual cream involved.  And yet, miraculously, we have achieved a luscious state of creaminess.  This is how I spend my sleepless hours in the night, thinking how to save calories while retaining flavor so that I can overeat with abandon.  And if you’ve already peeked down there at the recipe, then you know we are using goat cheese and yogurt to create creaminess, which provides the added bonus of tanginess and flavor, which enhances this pesto in every way imaginable.

This isn’t the time of year to harbor resentments about being in the kitchen, enslaved to the mundane of cooking dinner on a busy Tuesday night.  No sir.  If you’ve got some broccoli in the fridge, you’re awfully close to dinner on the table and maybe even a little extra time for yourself.  Here’s the recipe…

Creamy Broccoli Pesto

Click here for a printable recipe

We’re not partial to the strong taste of raw garlic in many pesto sauces, so my trick is to microwave the garlic (still in the skin) for about 10 seconds or so, depending on how powerful your microwave is.  This softens and partially cooks the garlic, reducing the bitterness.  If you don't have fresh basil handy, you may substitute fresh spinach or parsley, although the basil really does add a bright and lively flavor to this.  In addition to using this as a sauce for pasta, it's ever so lovely as a sauce over chicken or fish. 

Serves 4-6

1/2 pound broccoli florets

1 or 2 cloves garlic

1 cup basil leaves, tightly packed (see headnote)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup soft goat cheese

¼ cup toasted pine nuts, plus more for serving

¼ cup Greek yogurt

juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 2-3 tablespoons)

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese or pecorino cheese (I used a combination of the two)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Steam the broccoli for 6 minutes, until very tender but still bright. Remove from the heat, rinse and drain on paper towels.

2. Place all of the ingredients, except for the olive oil into the bowl of a food processor.  Blend until it is smooth. With the processor running, drizzle in the olive oil until you have a smooth paste.  Taste for salt and pepper.

If using as a sauce for pasta...

3. Place 1 lb of pasta (any shape you like) in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water and cook until al dente (usually a minute or so under what the package recommends).  Before draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

4. Place the  pasta back into the warm pan and stir in enough of the sauce to coat the pasta (you may have some sauce leftover), adding the reserved pasta water if needed to thin the sauce.  Mix in a little more grated parmesan and then turn the pasta out into a large serving bowl.  Top the pasta with a drizzle of olive oil, a little more grated cheese and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts.

Yield: 1 ¼ cups sauce

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