Pasta with Broccoli Pesto and Shrimp

As much as I know we should eat veggies in our house, we just don’t seem to quite hit what I think is the appropriate mark for leafy greens in our diet. Of course, when I make Indian food, I lean towards the vegetarian but that’s a little different than just eating your veggies. So any time I see a slightly veggie-centric dish I tag it to try later. This past spring I hit upon a few that we really liked (one was all kale and chicken with not much else and virtually carb-free). A favorite that was also just drop dead gorgeous was a Rigatoni with Roman Broccoli Sauce from Milk Street.

It’s not low or no carb but definitely uses a TON of vegetables so I don’t feel too bad eating it. This recipe uses an entire head of broccoli (stems, leaves and florets) as well as a generous amount of spinach. Everything gets whirred up with a blender to make an intensely bright green sauce for a big tubular pasta. It’s a pasta and veggie lover’s dream. But I wanted a little more cheese and something a bit fattier to cut through the bite of the raw garlic. Chef J suggested I try it as a pesto. We’ve since made this topped with some lemony grilled shrimp to add a bit of protein to the mix. It’s become a favorite in our family.

I love using rigatoni as the pasta in this dish but you could use any tubular or curly pasta. You just want a lot of surface area for this gorgeous sauce to cling to. We’ve done this on weeknights (if you leave out the shrimp, it’s truly a one pot wonder) and on weekends for company. You will use the same boiling water for all three steps so don’t mess up and drain anything down the sink until you are just about at the end! Made that mistake once and it set me back a bit while I brought another pot to boil.

Gather all of your ingredients and start marinating the shrimp.


To make your broccoli pesto, trim  and dice the stem of your head of broccoli and gather the other ingredients. When the broccoli is very tender, briefly blanch the spinach and remove to a food processor with the other pesto ingredients. Buzz it to a gorgeous green sauce.
Blanch the broccoli florets just a couple of minutes then remove to a colander to shock with cold water to stop the cooking.
Grill the shrimp (do not overcook – they just need a few minutes), boil and drain the pasta, then combine everything in the pot.
Gather your gremolata ingredients and chop together before combining with a little olive oil for a delicious topping.
Delicious summery pasta


Pasta with Broccoli Pesto and Shrimp

  • 1 lb broccoli, stems and florets separated
  • coarse kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 C packed baby spinach
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 T butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 T capers
  • 1/2 t red pepper flakes, divided
  • zest and juice of one lemon (reserve a little of the lemon zest)
  • 3/4 C chopped walnuts, divided
  • olive oil (about 3/4 C)
  • 12 oz rigatoni pasta (or some other tubular pasta – cavatappi would be great!)
  • 1 C finely grated parmesan cheese, plus a little more for garnish
  • 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Small handful of Italian parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper

Preheat grill to medium. Mix together lemon juice with olive oil (about twice as much oil as juice) plus a large pinch of salt and pepper and half of the red pepper flakes in a large bowl. Toss shrimp in until well coated and set aside while you prepare the pesto and pasta.

Bring large pot of water to boil with 2 T salt. Trim broccoli stems of any woody ends and peel off tough outer edges. Chop into 1/2 inch pieces, hanging onto any leaves. Add stems and leaves to water and boil until cooked through, about 10 minutes (you want it tender, not al dente for this recipe). Add the spinach to the water and boil 20-30 seconds until wilted. Using a slotted spoon or spider strainer, remove spinach and broccoli to blender or food processor. Also take out about 1/2 C cooking water (Do NOT dump the water! You are going to keep using it so leave the pot of water on the burner as you aren’t done with it!). To blender, add garlic, butter, capers, remaining red pepper flakes, 1 t salt, 1/2 C walnuts and half of lemon zest, about 1/4 C olive oil and about half of the cheese to the blender along with reserved cooking water. Puree until smooth and brilliant green, about 30 seconds. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Cut broccoli florets into small pieces (about 1 inch or so). Add broccoli florets to boiling water and cook for about 2-3 minutes until bright green and just crisp-tender. Remove with slotted spoon to a colander and rinse with very cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside until ready to use. Keep pot of water boiling!

Stir pasta into the boiling water and cook until just al dente (about 8 minutes for my brand of rigatoni). Reserve about 1 C of the starchy cooking water and drain pasta (you can finally dump the water!).

While pasta is cooking, place shrimp on the grill for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side until pink and cooked through. Do not overcook! If anything you may want them slightly under cooked as they will continue to cook in the pasta in just a few minutes. Remove from grill and reserve to toss with pasta.

Return pasta to now empty pot over medium heat with broccoli puree, florets, remaining cheese and lemon zest. Add about half of the reserved cooking water and cook over medium heat until pasta is well coated and sauce is slightly thickened (you may need more of the cooking water if your sauce is too tight when you start). Mix in grilled shrimp and toss until well coated. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

On a cutting board, chop remaining walnuts together with parsley and lemon zest to make a sort of gremolata. Transfer to a small bowl and mix with just a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper.

Transfer pasta to shallow bowls and garnish with gremolata and additional parmesan.

To make this kosher, simply leave out the shrimp step.



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