Pesto broccoli rice is a healthy side dish that features the bold flavors of fresh basil, garlic, and Parmesan to make the perfect pairing to chicken, fish, and more. Its light and fluffy texture makes it comparable to traditional rice, but in a lower calorie and low carb version.
Broccoli. Not much to say about broccoli, is there? It’s a healthy cruciferous vegetable that has a rep for not being that exciting. Except for that one night, when my college housemate microwave steamed a ton of broccoli ten minutes before a bunch of people were coming over.
Picture us all running around the house opening windows and lighting scented candles to try and minimize that…unpleasant scent. Eeesh.
Broccoli’s just fine steamed (just preferably not before hosting a ton of people) and I adore roasted frozen broccoli, but sometimes I like to really jazz it up. Enter, pesto broccoli rice.
While cauliflower rice gets more press, broccoli rice yields a similar nutritional profile with the same prep method for a rice alternative that can be flavored in a bunch of different ways.
Reasons To Love This Recipe
- Sautéing the broccoli rice before flavoring reduces that raw cruciferous vegetable flavor and provides a light and fluffy texture.
- The amount of pesto balances perfectly with the broccoli rice to coat and flavor it all without being gloopy, too saucy, or sogging it down.
- Since pesto blends into the green color of broccoli, this recipe is a good option to semi-sneak broccoli past picky eaters as it’s not in its typical floret shape and its green hue can be (deliciously) blamed on basil pesto.
- Broccoli: This recipe uses two medium/smaller heads or one gigantic head of broccoli. Already riced broccoli will work as a shortcut, just make sure it’s unseasoned and without a sauce.
- Basil: Fresh basil shines as far as flavor goes, though other leafy greens also make a good pesto. Spinach pesto is a favorite, as is arugula, and can be subbed in partially if you don’t have enough basil.
- Parmesan: Any variety of hard Italian cheese is a good pick here: Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, etc. If going the Parmesan route, I recommend buying a block and grating it yourself for the freshest flavor. My next choice would be pre-shredded/grated from the refrigerated deli section for convenience. I would not use shelf-stable canisters of Parmesan as they’re dry and lack flavor.
- Pine nuts: Pine nuts are traditional in pesto, but there’s no getting around that they’re expensive. For recipes where they aren’t the *star* (like in pignoli cookies), you can sub in walnuts or almonds if that works better.
- Cut the broccoli into florets and place them in the bowl of a food processor. It’s helpful to do this in batches so you don’t have to smush it full.
- Pulse the broccoli until it’s in small pieces that resemble rice. Stop to scrape down the sides often to incorporate all of the florets evenly. Turn out the riced broccoli to a bowl for now.
- Now add most of the pesto ingredients to the now empty food processor: basil leaves, half of the Parmesan, pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper.
- Process until the mixture is evenly combined and the basil is broken into small pieces. It won’t be creamy or saucy just yet.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then pour one-quarter cup of the olive oil (reserve the remaining tablespoon for sautéing) into the food processor.
- Process/pulse until the oil is emulsified and the pesto becomes creamy. Set the pesto aside for the moment.
- Heat the remaining one tablespoon olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Once heated, add the broccoli rice, cover, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the broccoli has softened up some. Stir up the rice as needed.
- Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the prepared basil pesto. Stir well to evenly incorporate, then serve warm topped with the reserved Parmesan, additional salt and pepper to taste, etc.
- Much like with cauliflower rice, this pesto broccoli rice isn’t an exact dupe of regular grain rice. The texture/mouth feel isn’t wildly far off, but it won’t get fluffed up as traditional rice does given that it’s straight-up broccoli. I find it helpful to set expectations if serving this to those unfamiliar with veggie “rices” so they don’t get disappointed with an expectation/reality mismatch.
- When breaking down the broccoli in the food processor, stop often to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This helps ensure the broccoli “rices” evenly, and that some parts don’t get over-processed and mushy while others are left in large pieces.
- You’ll still be able to taste some of the broccoli flavor come through, but the pesto certainly works to mask it. Once the pesto has been combined with the broccoli, take a taste and add additional seasonings (salt, pepper, lemon juice, Parmesan) to make it right to your liking.
Be sure not to use too much oil when sautéing the riced broccoli (one tablespoon should be enough), and don’t let it cook for too long. Five minutes or so should be just fine to tenderize it slightly and cook off some of that raw cruciferous veggie taste. And while tempting, don’t increase the amount of pesto added as that can sog it up, too.
With fresh basil flavor, this pesto broccoli rice pairs well with many Italian-leaning main dish proteins, including grilled chicken and fish. Baked tuna cakes, baked chicken parmesan, or baked turkey meatballs are healthier options where the flavors will mesh.
Yes! Cauliflower works just as well in this recipe.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Pesto Broccoli Rice
- 2 medium heads broccoli or one very large head
- 5 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan divided
- Juice from half a lemon
- 1 ½ tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts or almonds
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Cut florets from the heads of broccoli and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the broccoli florets are broken up into tiny pieces resembling rice, stopping frequently to scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate the broccoli evenly. Add riced broccoli to a bowl for now. Repeat this step in batches until all of the broccoli is pulsed.
- To the now empty food processor, add basil leaves, 3 tablespoons of Parmesan, lemon juice, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper and pulse until the basil and nuts are broken up into small pieces and the ingredients are combined.
- Pour in 1/4 cup of the olive oil and process until creamy. Set pesto aside for now.
- Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large pan set over medium heat. Once heated, add the broccoli rice and stir. Cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring until the broccoli has tenderized slightly.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the pesto until evenly combined. Stir in remaining 3 tablespoons of Parmesan and season with additional salt, pepper, lemon juice, Parmesan, etc. to your taste. Serve warm.
- Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl frequently when ricing the broccoli to break it up into evenly small pieces. If the broccoli on the bottom is kept there too long, it can become mushy before the top florets are sufficiently broken down.
- Resist the urge to add excess oil when sautéing the broccoli, cook it for too long, or double up on the pesto sauce to prevent this broccoli rice from becoming soggy.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.