Broccoli and almond pesto with cannolicchi

I love to make pesto throughout the year, and in winter I try to keep it seasonal by using cold-weather greens, like broccoli or kale. Discovering a lonely stalk of broccoli in the crisper drawer earlier this week, I decided on a pesto with toasted almonds, lemon, and Parmigiano. Toasted almonds are a perfect pairing with broccoli’s mild flavor — the almonds’ mellow nuttiness would be overwhelmed by an assertive green such as basil, but it really shines through here. I add lemon zest and juice to give the pesto a bright flavor, red chile flakes for a bit of zesty heat, of course lots of good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil, and a salty Italian cheese — here Parmigiano-Reggiano, but Pecorino or Grana Padano would work just as well.

We used the pesto to dress our new favorite pasta: cannolicchi, a tight corkscrew made to resemble the shape of a razor clam. The spirals maintain their shape nicely when cooked, and effectively capture sauce, making them a perfect shape to pair with pesto. (It’s also the best pasta I’ve ever had with Bolognese sauce — amazing. Try it sometime.) Garnished with toasted almonds, chopped parsley, a drizzle of olive oil and a grating of cheese, this is exactly the kind of green winter comfort food that I am leaning toward these days.

The recipe below makes about 2 and a half cups of pesto, which is likely more than you’ll need to dress a pound of pasta. Since this is a milder-flavored pesto I use quite a bit more to dress the pasta than I would with a basil pesto, but even then I do not use it all.  So here are a few ideas for that leftover pesto: stir a spoonful into a bowl of creamy polenta and top with a poached egg and greens for a delicious and healthy one-bowl meal. Or add a dollop to a cooked whole grain such as brown rice, farro, or quinoa; toss in some veggies and you have a flavorful vegetarian salad. Stir a big spoonful of pesto into soup — it adds seasoning and depth of flavor. Spread on crostini, or use it as a base for avocado toast. Because the broccoli is blanched, the pesto won’t turn brown like a basil pesto would, so it’s ideal to keep in the fridge for a few days to use in multiple dishes — beyond that, store tightly sealed in the freezer and use within a month (simply thaw in the fridge and stir before using).

Broccoli and almond pesto with cannolicchi
Serves 4 to 6, with leftover pesto (makes about 2-1/2 cups of pesto)

Approx. 10 ounces of raw broccoli, cut into spears (about 3 cups) (I peel and slice the stalk and use that, too)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of red chile flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano, Pecorino, or Grana Padano
Celtic salt, as needed
1 pound cannolicchi or other spiral-shaped pasta, such as fusilli or cavatappi

garnishes:
extra-virgin olive oil
toasted sliced almonds
chopped Italian parsley
red chile flakes
freshly grated cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Add broccoli and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Remove broccoli with a spider or slotted spoon, rinse with cold water, and drain well. Save cooking water to cook the pasta later.

Blend garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add almonds and blend again until mixture has a coarse sandy texture. Add lemon zest, juice, and chile flakes, and pulse for a few seconds. With the lid on, slowly add olive oil in a steady steam. The pesto should have a creamy texture; if it is dry add more olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time until creamy. Add cheese and process until combined. Taste and add salt if needed.

Bring pot of water back to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, following the package instructions. Transfer pasta to a large bowl (save about 1 cup of cooking water). Start by adding about 1/2 cup of pesto and 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss gently to evenly coat the pasta with sauce, and add more pesto and pasta cooking water, if needed, to suit your taste.

Transfer pasta to serving bowls and finish with a drizzle of olive oil and garnishes of your choosing.

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