A New Way With Broccoli – Rigatoni with Roman Broccoli Sauce

I’m not always a broccoli lover.  I certainly wasn’t when I was pregnant.  Too pungent.  But, I’m liking this broccoli dish – it’s subtle, but tasty.  Bright with added lemon zest.

I came across it in Milk Street, the Christopher Kimble spinoff of America’s Test Kitchen.  I have to tell you, I’m loving that magazine – it’s my current favorite food magazine and I was never a big fan of ATK.

This dish is inspired from a Roman dish the author ate and he adapted it to the American kitchen.  Originally the sauce calls for broccoli leaves, however since that’s not easy to find he substituted with broccoli stalks.  Brilliant! He made a very effective use of a part of the vegetable that people often disregard or dislike. The florets are added to the dish separately.

The sauce uses the stalk and pasta water to great effect, creating a smooth creamy round sauce that holds to the pasta.  Add in some spinach, garlic, capers, and lemon zest and you have a beautiful green sauce.

Rigatoni with Roman Broccoli Sauce by Milk Street, March-April 2018 Issue 

I cut the garlic back to one and a half cloves because I was afraid the raw garlic would be overpowering, but it wasn’t. I also think adding a little lemon juice might be nice, but it was a gorgeous sauce without it.

Serves 4

1 pound broccoli stems, florets, and leaves separated, stems peeled

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 1/2 cups packed baby spinach

2 medium cloves garlic, chopped

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter, cut into 4 pieces

1 tablespoon drained or rinsed capers

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons lemon zest, divided

12 ounces rigatoni pasta

1 ounce Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, finely grated (1/2 cup), plus more to serve


  1. In a large pot, boil 4 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of salt. Cut broccoli stems crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds. Add the stems and leaves to the water and cook until fully tender – about 10 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted – about 20 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a blender, reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water. Keep at a boil.
  2. Cut the broccoli florets into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces. Add the florets to the boiling water and cook until crisp tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a colander and rinse under cold water until cooled. Again, keep the water at a boil.
  3. To the blender, add the garlic, butter, capers, red pepper flakes, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon lemon zest and the reserved cooking water. Puree until smooth and bright about 30 seconds. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Stir the rigatoni into the boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain. Return the pasta to the pot and add the broccoli florets, the broccoli puree, 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water, the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon zest and the cheese.
  5. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens slightly and the pasta is well coated, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste and season with salt and pepper.



  1. Ali says:

    Yum! I have a bag of broccoli stems in my fridge, because I LOVE them, but the kiddos do not. Will put them to good use soon. This sounds so yummy Dana!!

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