We have this as an easy one-dish dinner at my house on plenty of weeknights. If I'm feeling extra wholesome, I'll even use whole wheat pasta - the broccoli and walnuts stand up to the heartier texture very well. Read the recipe through before you start; you can start cooking the broccoli and toasting the walnuts while the pasta water boils and the pasta cooks.
Note that the broccoli in this recipe is cooked beyond the crisp-tender stage many health-conscious people have become used to. It still has plenty of vitamins in it, and the softer texture helps it become the "sauce" for the pasta. Try it to see the many flavors and uses of broccoli.
- 1/2 to 1 pound* pasta shells, penne, or fusilli (whole wheat works nicely, if you like)
- 2 pounds broccoli
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 cup walnuts
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil and/or butter
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1/2 cup freshly shredded pecorino, parmesan, or other hard grating cheese, plus more for garnish
- 1 Tablespoon salt for pasta water, 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt for sauce, plus more to taste
- Preheat an oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt (probably about 1 tablespoon) so the water tastes a bit salty. Add the pasta and cook until tender to the bite. While the pasta cooks, scoop out about 1 cup of the cooking water and reserve it. Drain the pasta.
- Meanwhile, trim the broccoli (peel the stalks and crunch on them while you cook, if you like) and separate the crowns into large florets. Cut the florets into smaller ones, about 1/2-inch across. Set aside. Peel and finely chop the garlic and set aside.
- Roughly chop the walnuts and spread them on a baking sheet or piece of foil and bake until toasted, 5 to 10 minutes. Set a timer and check on them—walnuts go from toasted to burnt very quickly. Set the walnuts aside.
- In a large frying pan or sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the oil and/or butter, the broccoli, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli turns bright green, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes, if using, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add about 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta-cooking water to the broccoli. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the broccoli in tender to the bite, 3 to 5 minutes. Add more pasta-cooking water if the pan gets dry.
- Add the drained pasta to the broccoli, toss to combine well. Add the walnuts and toss to combine. Add the cheese and toss to combine. Taste and add salt if you like. Serve hot, topped with more cheese.
* Yes, that's a big range. I've found peopl have widely ranging appetites for pasta; this sauce is enough for a pound of pasta, but some people may find 4 ounces per person to be too much.