Pasta Broccoli is a long time family favorite, an authentic Italian pasta recipe made with lots of soft ricotta cheese, basil, broccoli, Parmesan, pine nuts, and garlic. It’s a comforting family meal, ready in 30 minutes.
This Pasta Broccoli recipe is a winner. Literally. When my oldest daughter was a freshman her college had a wonderful program called Recipes from Home. They invited parents to send in their family recipes and the best ones would be chosen to be made by the dining hall and served at the college.
You guessed it. This dish won.
I’ll never forget my daughter calling to let me know…she was mortified! I guess having her name on the little plaque in front of the Pasta Broccoli was a touch embarrassing. But as it turned out all her friends loved it, so I was forgiven.
This pasta doesn’t look like much, I admit. It’s homey. But it has a surprising array of flavors and textures for a humble little pasta. I’ve been making this for over 20 years and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it. I made the ricotta and the pesto from scratch today, but usually I use regular ricotta from the store, and whatever good refrigerated pesto I can find.
The flavor comes from the lemony pesto, really good aged Italian cheese and fresh garlic. The crunch comes from the par-cooked broccoli and the toasted pine nuts. Ricotta cheese gives it a creaminess, and if you slightly under cook the pasta it remains firm and chewy. It’s heaven.
I just noticed the other day that my younger daughter’s college has the same Recipes from Home program. I think I’ll definitely send something in. I mean, it’s only fair, they should each have equal opportunity to be embarrassed from afar.
To make this pasta extra special, make your own homemade ricotta cheese ~ How To Make Homemade Ricotta Cheese. It takes just 2 ingredients and a few minutes to make your own uber fresh cheese.
Recipes from Home: Pasta Broccoli
- 3/4 lb pasta, a curly or corkscrew shape works well for holding the sauce
- 1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets (at least 2 heaping cups)
- 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 -- 1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1/3 cup pesto, make it fresh or buy the freshest you can
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1/2 cup freshly grated aged Italian cheese
- a squeeze of lemon
- salt and freshly cracked pepper
- Cook the pasta until barely al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Microwave the broccoli with a couple of tablespoons of water for 3 minutes, or steam briefly so it is just no longer crunchy, and is bright green.
- Drizzle the oil in the same pot you cooked the pasta in. Saute the garlic for a minute and then add the broccoli. Stir and cook just a minute to infuse the garlic flavor.
- Put the pasta back in the pan, and add in the ricotta. If you are using store-bought ricotta it will melt down a bit in the hot pan. For a creamier sauce you can add in a little milk, cream, or pasta water to thin the cheese. If you are using fresh ricotta it won't melt, but that's ok.
- Take the pan off the heat and add the pesto, salt, pepper, grated cheese and lemon. Mix well and check the seasoning, it takes a fair amount of salt. Top with the toasted pine nuts.
- Like so many dishes, the success of this recipe depends on your ingredients. The only times I have ever been unhappy with this pasta is when I used a ready made (non-refrigerated) pesto from a jar. Avoid that and you should be ok.
Remember that pesto in an uncooked sauce, so take the pan off the heat when you add it, otherwise the color and flavor will dissipate quickly.