Pesto is that fancy friend that you wish you could invite to every single party you throw just to class things up a bit. It makes you look like you’re a pro in the kitchen and like you know what you’re doing, because when people hear pesto they’re all like, “Ooooooh, aaaaaawww! Pesto?!?!?!” Yeah, just like that. It’s packed with so much flavor and can be used a million different ways. Okay, so I might be exaggerating a bit…it can be used a hundred different ways. Pesto is versatile. It lends itself to many dishes. You can use it for sandwiches or use it as a marinade for meats and poultry or as a dressing for pasta or green salads or eat it by the spoonful all by itself. I’m not one to judge. P.S. FYI BTW it’s also super delicious and irresistible as a dipping sauce for soft fresh homemade bread, right out of the oven, like focaccia. If you don’t have the time to make your own freshly baked bread (I’ll be judging you slightly this time) then you can definitely use store bought bread. Pick up a loaf at the grocery store and use it for all of your pesto dipping needs. You’ll love it. I promise. Just don’t get too full on bread and pesto because you’ll need to save room for this dish in particular.
There was a time when I was younger when I’d make pesto all of the time. Literally at least once a week. My family really likes pesto and every time I asked them, “What do you guys want for dinner tonight? What should I make?” They’d always say pesto pasta with such enthusiasm that I’d give in and make it for them because why not? Also, I’m a sucker for my mom and sisters. They can literally get me to do anything, but I digress. I made pesto for dinner and lunch so often that the recipe was engraved in my mind. I was seeing it in my sleep. Making it with my eyes closed. Because of this, I got bored of it rather quickly, as you can imagine. I learned a very valuable lesson; even though it’s fancy and even though it’s tasty and delicious, I just couldn’t keep making it the same way over and over again. Now as an adult, I still love pesto but I’m definitely on the look out for new and exciting pesto recipes because the same simple, yet delicious, pesto recipes just aren’t fitting the bill anymore.. The broccoli in this recipe is just about the right amount of “out there” but still delicious and simple enough to make it all the time.
I came across a recipe online with a chunkier version of this broccoli pesto and I figured I definitely had to try it on my own with a few changes. It was just what I needed because it felt like something new and exciting. Fancy but not stuck up. So if you’re part of the pesto fan club, well you should join my family, but also you should try this pasta dish because it’ll knock your socks off. It’s that weeknight dinner you didn’t realize you needed. Now that you have it, watch out…you’re ready to conquer the world. Just remember who helped you get there.
We’re always in need of a quick weeknight meal that gets us out of the kitchen as fast as possible. After a long day of work, the last thing you want to do is slave away in the kitchen all night long. Don’t worry though I’ve got you covered. Well, this dish has you covered. This dish will take you save the night.
Let’s start by preparing the broccoli. Before you start saying, “Eew yuck! I hate mini trees!” come at this with an open mind. Cook the broccoli in boiling water until just about fork tender and bright green, about 10 minutes.
**Tip: Don’t over cook the broccoli because it’ll become too mushy and lose it’s bright green color. We don’t want that. No one wants brown boiled broccoli.**
Immediately transfer the broccoli with a slotted spoon into a bowl filled with water and ice. This is what we call an ice bath and ice baths are great because it stops the broccoli (or any other vegetable) from cooking and it helps keep that bright color.
**Tip: Keep that broccoli cooking water in the pot and bring it back up to a boil for the pasta. It’ll infuse the pasta with nutrients and flavor, and it’ll save you a step of having to refill the pot and boil it once again .**
Allow the broccoli to air dry and then transfer to a food processor along with the other traditional pesto ingredients. Garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, parmesan, pecans, salt, pepper, basil, and crushed red pepper.
**Note: Traditional pesto is made with pine nuts but I like making this one with pecans because they go well with the broccoli and it switches things up a bit because we’re trying to be hip and cool.**
Process until well combined, streaming in the olive oil while the machine is running. Aka multi-tasking but don’t be scared because it’s not that scary…just a little bit. You can do it though, I have the faith.
**Note: You don’t want it to be a very “wet” pesto. This will look dry and very thick. That’s totally how it’s supposed to be.**
Set the pesto off to the side. We’ll revisit that in a little bit but in the meantime let’s focus on the chicken. Season it lightly with salt, pepper, granulated garlic, granulated onion, oregano and chili flakes.
**Tip: I’m using chicken breast cutlets because they cook a lot faster than the thick pieces, and less time in the kitchen is sometimes needed.**
Cook the chicken on a grill pan or skillet until golden brown on both sides, about 5 to 7 minutes, flipping over halfway through searing.
Transfer the cooked chicken to a plate or platter and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Once cooled, cut the chicken into thin pieces. I shredded my chicken with two forks, which reminded me of when I was little and my mom would make a dish with shredded chicken and make my sisters and I sit at the table shredding chicken with our fingers (like child laborers) and it was tedious and when I got older I learned you could easily (and a lot faster) shred chicken with two forks. I think it kept us busy and not running around yelling from the top of our lungs…for a little while at least.
Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until al dente.
**Note: IMPORTANT: Before you drain the cooked pasta, reserve about a cup of the cooking water. We’ll need that for the sauce later.**
Return the noodles to the pot, the broccoli pesto from earlier, mascarpone cheese, and enough of the pasta cooking water as needed to make the pesto into a creamy sauce.
Add the shredded chicken, parmesan and pecans to the pasta. It’s okay to sneak in a few pieces of chicken to check for quality and taste, but make sure you leave enough chicken for the pasta.
Toss to fully combine and then cook on low until warmed through. Serve with a sprinkling of cheese, (because you can never have enough cheese) and a few more pecans just to make sure there’s plenty of texture in the dish.
This is one of those “it get better as it sits” kind of a recipe where the next day and the day after will taste even better than when you first made it. So lesson of the story is that you can totally make this in advance and keep it in the fridge until ready to eat. It’s a lot of pasta, so even if it’s just you or two of you, you’ll have some leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. No cooking the next day! Let’s celebrate! Wooo!
It’s also perfect for parties, gatherings, potlucks or picnics because it can definitely be eaten at room temperature or cold or warm, of course. Either way, it’ll still taste great and make it easier on you because you don’t have to worry about it being super hot before serving. It can sit out for a bit and all will be fine. A potluck participant’s dream.
If you’re allergic to nuts (I’m very sad for you), but you can leave out the pecans in both the dish itself and the broccoli pesto. I won’t be mad and I won’t tell anyone. It’ll be our little secret. It’s mostly there for texture. Same goes for the chicken. You can leave it out if you want a vegetarian pasta dish!
I’m trying to make broccoli the new cauliflower or brussels sprouts or kale. Those seem to be so hip and trendy right bow, but you know what, broccoli can be hip and trendy too! I’ll have you know that broccoli pesto is too cool for school. This is a great way to disguise it and get your kids (and some adults, let’s be honest) to eat their broccoli. If you make this with whole wheat pasta and serve it with a healthy tossed green salad on the side, you can actually feel good about eating this. Not always a bad a feeling, if we’re being honest.
Get your pasta on this week by making this broccoli pesto pasta. You’ll feel and look like a rockstar. Everyone will be impressed. They’ll want to be you. Can you believe that? They’ll want to be YOU! Yes, you. You’re a trend setter. Broccoli is the new “it” vegetable. You heard it here first. Go on with your bad self. Broccoli pesto for life.
- 2 medium broccoli crowns, cut into florets
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ¼ cup pecans
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- ½ cup olive oil
- 4 chicken breast cutlets
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon granulated onion
- ½ teaspoon granulated garlic
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound dried pasta (bow tie or any other short cut)
- 1 cup pasta cooking water
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup mascarpone cheese
- ¼ cup pecans
- lemon wedges, for serving
- Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Add the broccoli and cook until just about fork tender and bright green, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to an ice bath (bowl filled with cold water and ice).
- Cover the pot of water that the broccoli cooked in and bring back to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, until al dente. Before draining, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Drain and set to the side.
- To make the pesto, place the broccoli, basil, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, pecans, parmesan, salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper in a food processor. Process until completely chopped and broken down. While the machine is running, slowly stream in the olive oil. Mixture will be thick. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, salt, black pepper, granulated onion, granulated garlic, oregano and red pepper until evenly coated. Place a large skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook two chicken breasts at a time for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown, flipping over halfway through. Transfer to a plate and add remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Cook the remaining two chicken cutlets. Allow to cool about 10 minutes. Cut into strips or shred using two forks.
- In a large pot, combine the cooked pasta, broccoli pesto, shredded chicken, reserved pasta cooking liquid, mascarpone, and ¼ cup parmesan cheese. Toss to evenly combine. Cook on low until heated through. Serve with a topping of cheese, pecans and lemon wedge.