I am such a sucker for pesto. I’ll enjoy a basil and pine nut pesto anytime, but it seems sacrosanct for summer. As we head into fall and winter, I’ve got just the alternative to match the season and still satisfy any pesto addiction. Broccoli is good year-round, but hits its peak season and flavor October through April. In this hearty and satisfying pesto variation, the roasted broccoli’s warmth and depth replace basil’s brightness. Here it makes the perfect amuse bouche1 on whole wheat spaghetti, with feta cheese, olive oil, and crushed red pepper. Of course, you can always serve it as a full dish instead of a bite-sized tasting.
If you’re like me, you might scroll down the page to see the recipe before coming back up here to read. I apologize in advance, but there’s no recipe here. I’ve got a bit of split personality when it comes to cooking. Sometimes I operate with extreme precision, weighing ingredients in my modernist dishes to a 1/100th of a gram because the process demands a precise ratio. Other times, like here, I don’t have any measurements, just a little of this and some of that and taste and adjust as I go. I encourage you to do the same.
- olive oil
- nutritional yeast (or Parmesan cheese if you prefer)
- to construct the amuse bouche: whole wheat spaghetti, feta cheese, crushed red pepper
- Roast the walnuts
- Roast the broccoli with olive oil, salt, and pepper
- Process with olive oil, salt, garlic, and nutritional yeast in food processor (preferred) or blender
- Serve with spaghetti, feta cheese, and crushed red pepper
If I’ve got the space for it, I store nuts and seeds in the freezer so they last longer and the oils they contain don’t go rancid. I’m not particular about what nuts I buy. They might already be toasted, but if I’ve got raw, I toast the walnuts on a baking sheet for 8-10 minutes at 375° F, checking and stirring frequently to make sure they don’t burn. This picture is more than I used in the pesto — once I was roasting, I figured I’d do all I had and freeze the extra (which was a huge timesaver next time I needed toasted walnuts).
You can devote the whole broccoli to this recipe, or as in this batch, just stems left over if using the florets in another dish. The tough outer layer (cuticle) of the broccoli stalk can be woody and fibrous, so I prefer to cut it away. This is more of an issue in larger broccoli with thicker stems, but I wouldn’t worry as much for smaller specimens.
Once roasted, the broccoli is going to be introduced to the food processor or blender, so it doesn’t matter how you cut it up. The main thing is to have consistently sized pieces so they cook evenly. Coat everything in olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper, and roast at around 425° F for 20-25 minutes. You can line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat2, but aluminum foil will give you the best caramelization.
Once done roasting, I tossed it in my blender with the walnuts, olive oil, raw garlic (I like a lot of sharp garlic), and salt to taste. I also wanted to keep it parve (non-dairy and vegan), so I used nutritional yeast3 to add another dimension where I otherwise might have included Parmesan cheese. I love my blender4, but with such a small amount to blend, it kept getting stuck on the walls and beneath the blades. I would have been better off using a small food processor.
Here’s another batch I was smarter about and used my processor. Note that it also includes the florets.
When thinking about how to incorporate the broccoli pesto in an amuse bouche (also considering what I had on hand), I sought balance and just a little complexity. I’m pleased with how the heartiness and warmth of the broccoli, walnuts, and whole wheat spaghetti play off the astringency and saltiness of the feta cheese, which itself is tempered by the smoothness of the olive oil. The oil also serves to bring everything together and allow the flavors to mingle. I sprinkled the red pepper to provide an extra visual and gustatory pop.
- noun \ˈä-ˌmüz-ˈbüsh, –ˌmuez-\ French, something that “amuses the mouth.” Not to be confused with hors d’œuvre, this bite-sized tidbit is often served as complimentary welcome to a meal. It offers an opportunity to showcase the chef’s creativity and approach to cuisine. ↩
- Silpat is the original silicone encased fiberglass mat, but there are now many cheaper and high quality alternatives. I love using mine for other applications. ↩
- Deactivated yeast (i.e., it won’t work for leavening) that has a cheese-like flavor. The name is kind of unappealing, so feel free to call it nooch or hippie dust. This one is excellent, and the best value I’ve found. ↩
- I almost bought into the Vitamix hype, but after a lot of research, I bought a blender from the Waring Commercial Xtreme MX series; mine has a variable speed dial. It’s incredibly powerful, significantly cheaper, doesn’t require a tamper (unless I make a poor decision like I did here to blend too little food), and is endorsed by my heroes at ChefSteps, who featured it in this beautiful video demonstrating how blenders exploit cavitation to break up food. ↩