Broccoli can make healthy, flavorful pesto |

Broccoli can make healthy, flavorful pesto

Jim Romanoff / The Associated Press

Larry Crowe / The Associated Press Nutrient-rich broccoli helps create a healthy pesto for Fusilli in Broccoli and Pine Nut Sauce.

Despite unfavorable reviews from one former U.S. president, broccoli remains tremendously popular.

That’s good news, since the flavorful vegetable is packed with nutrients and provides significant amounts of vitamins A and C. Sulforphane, the nutrient that gives broccoli its characteristic (and sometimes unpopular) odor, has been shown to fight disease as well as promote good stomach health.

Broccoli is available year-round but is at its best in late summer through early winter. Look for bunches that are dark green with tightly closed florets. Avoid broccoli that is limp, yellowing or has a strong, cabbagy smell.

It is best to use fresh broccoli when the vegetable plays a starring role in a dish. But in a pinch, frozen is just as nutritious.

To prepare broccoli, rinse it thoroughly and separate the stalks from the florets. The stalks are edible and tasty; just use a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife to remove the tough outer skin.

For even cooking, always cut the florets into consistently sized pieces. Because the tougher stalks take longer to cook, it is best to cut them into even smaller pieces.

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Broccoli can be cooked several ways. To steam, put the broccoli in a steamer basket set over a large saucepan filled with about an inch of water. Cover and steam until tender, about 3 to 6 minutes.

To microwave, put about 4 cups of stalks and florets in a microwave-safe bowl. Add a few tablespoons of water, then cover and microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the broccoli is just tender.

Roasting concentrates the flavors in an unexpectedly delightful way. Toss the broccoli in a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and roast at 450 F until tender and the bottoms are well browned, about 10 to 12 minutes.

This pasta in broccoli and pine nut sauce is richly flavored, yet healthy. The broccoli stalks are pureed with garlic and pine nuts to create a pestolike sauce, which then is tossed with the florets, pasta and fresh basil.

If you like, you can top each serving with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese.

Preparation time, start to finish: 40 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

1 head broccoli (about 1 1/4 pounds)

3 cloves garlic

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup pine nuts

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

12 ounces whole-wheat fusilli pasta

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Ground black pepper, to taste

Separate the broccoli florets from the stalks. Chop the florets into small pieces and set aside. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the tough outer skin from the stalks. Cut the peeled stalks into 1-inch chunks.

In a medium saucepan, combine the garlic, salt and water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli stalks, reduce heat, cover and simmer until very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Transfer the broccoli stalks, garlic and cooking liquid to a food processor. Add the pine nuts and olive oil, then process until smooth (use caution when pureeing hot liquids).

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until nearly tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the reserved broccoli florets and continue cooking until the pasta and broccoli are tender, about another 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the sauce and chopped basil, then toss well. Season with black pepper.

Nutrition information per serving: 483 calories; 140 calories from fat; 16 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 74 g carbohydrate; 15 g protein; 12 g fiber; 208 mg sodium.