Pesto isn't just made from basil. You can use any kind of greens — or even, in this case, steamed broccoli! This is an old favorite for me — a way to turn an economical dish of steamed broccoli into a creamy yet nubby pesto to toss with pasta or cooked grains.
It has very little fat and dairy, aside from the feta, and nearly all of its body comes from steamed and blended broccoli. And lest you think this is a dieter's compromise of a pasta sauce, I'll tell you the broccoli is sautéed with onion, garlic, and Italian parsley, and spun with lemon juice for a fantastically tangy and aromatic pasta dish. It's fresh, easy, and unexpected!
This is yet one more recipe inspired by Laurie Colwin. She mentions a pasta sauce made up from steamed broccoli in one of her essays in "Home Cooking." I played around with the proportions and added a few things, including the feta. Broccoli and feta are so good together — remember our broccoli and feta pasta salad?
This is also a quick and cheap meal — just a little broccoli, some herbs, pasta, and pantry staples. Try this on a spring evening for a quick one-dish supper. The bright green sauce is fresh and unexpected, and the leftovers are delicious as well.
Broccoli & Feta Pasta Sauce
1 pound broccoli, trimmed and cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1/2 cup feta cheese, divided
1/4 cup water
Cut the broccoli into small florets and steam on the stove or in the microwave with the 2 tablespoons of water. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Cook the onion and garlic until it just begins to soften, and then add the broccoli. Cook for several minutes or until the onion turns translucent. Add the parsley and cook until it's well-wilted. Pour in the lemon juice and simmer for about two minutes.
Transfer to a blender and add 1/4 cup of the feta cheese and the 1/4 cup water. Purée until smooth, adding a drizzle of olive oil and a little more water if it sticks and turns to a lump. Purée until as smooth or chunky as you prefer.
Taste and add any necessary additional salt and pepper. Serve with a good ridged pasta like the rotini above.
Recipe updated from original published April 2008.