Easy, Crowd-Pleasing Dinner Idea: Pasta with Broccoli or Cauliflower Sauce


There is a much longer version of this recipe that I used to make when I was learning to cook.  Enrico and I had just gotten married and were living in Milan, and in one of our wedding presents — Marcella Hazan’s renowned cookbook for Americans The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking — I found a recipe that combined two of my favorite things: pasta and cauliflower.


Enrico’s mom made cauliflower pasta the same way as the cookbook, but the method required boiling, draining, and then sautéing the vegetable in a separate half-hour process that involved almost constant stirring.  Then one day I went for dinner at a friend’s house — another American woman married to an Italian man — and she made a similar pasta with a broccoli, but it was much quicker.


Instead of cooking the pasta and vegetables in two separate processes, she simply boiled them together, drained them, and tossed them with the flavoring ingredients (oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes).

At first I looked down on this short-cut, favoring the authentic Italian slow cooking method, which I was convinced tasted richer.  But the ease of the streamlined (American?) method was so tempting, I too was soon getting dinner on the table in 20 minutes.

Another thing I love about this recipe?  It combines two food groups in one dish, so all I need to do to complete the picture is serve a hunk of cheese (or other protein), and done.

Here’s the easy recipe.

Pasta with Broccoli or Cauliflower Sauce

serves 4 to 6


  • 2 small broccoli crowns or 1 big stalk or 1 small head of cauliflower or 1/2 large head
  • 1 box of short pasta (1 lb.) such as tubes, shells, or other chunky shape
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt
  1. In a large pot of water, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and bring to a boil.
  2. Chop the broccoli or cauliflower into bite-sized pieces.  Stems are fine to use, but peel the skin of the broccoli stalk if it’s very tough.
  3. In a small saucepan, sauté the garlic and pepper flakes in the butter and oil until golden.  Remove from heat before garlic gets brown (and bitter).
  4. When the salted water has come to a boil, dump in the pasta and chopped vegetables.  Cook according to the pasta instructions until al dente, stirring occasionally.
  5. Drain the pasta and veggie mixture and dump back into the pasta pot.  Pour in the garlic mixture and stir until all the pasta is coated.  Taste and correct for salt (although the salted pasta water should do the trick).
  6. Serve immediately, with fresh-grated parmesan if you like.


Broccoli has more nutrients than any other vegetable, according to the USDA, including vitamins A, C, and D, beta carotene, calcium, fiber, iron, and antioxidants.  Cauliflower is a close cousin in the same family of flowering cabbage and is rich in vitamin C and potassium.

My kids love it when they can smell the familiar scents of cauliflower or broccoli pasta cooking, and even though certain individuals will leave large chunks of plant matter at the bottom of the bowl, I know there is quite a bit of good nutrition in the bits and juices that cling to the pasta.


I hope you like this recipe as much as we do.

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  • Dwight E February 15, 2013, 1:12 pm

    Great idea! I never thought the idea of just combining some pasta noodles with broccoli, I’m sure it tastes good too!

  • Nancy February 8, 2013, 2:31 pm

    As another American married to an Italian, I,ve been doing these recipes this way for years. If you add abundant parmigiana or grana cheese at the end, it tastes even better and is a ‘piatto unico.’

    • Amy February 13, 2013, 2:10 pm

      Hi Nancy, You are right — it tastes wonderful with lots of parmesan. And I do love the idea of a one-dish meal!

      Thank you,

  • Cynthia February 8, 2013, 2:30 pm

    I love cauliflower pasta. I do that trick myself- also with frozen peas, then throw in some cream and parmigiano. Yum.

    • Amy February 13, 2013, 2:10 pm

      Great idea about the frozen peas, Cynthia!

  • lara February 8, 2013, 10:38 am

    I’ll try it! Thanks for the recipe that even I might be able to pull off.

    • Amy February 13, 2013, 2:10 pm

      I know you can, Lara!

  • Samantha @ Digital Zen February 6, 2013, 10:47 pm

    This is great, thanks for sharing! I do something similar with the crockpot – tossing in brussels sprouts or other veggie in the last half hour (less for leafy greens, etc). One less pot to wash.

    • Amy February 13, 2013, 2:14 pm

      Hi Samantha,

      Yummm, I love brussel sprouts, and I’m totally into less dishes to wash!


  • Lynn February 6, 2013, 9:15 pm

    Nice to know you can cook the pasta and veggies at the same time!
    My husband would like a little meat for dinner, but sometimes just some added bacon bits does the trick.

    • Amy February 13, 2013, 2:15 pm

      Hi Lynn,

      I know, for some people no meal is complete without meat. Or bread. Bacon bits sounds like a great compromise!


  • Jen @ Jen Spends February 6, 2013, 9:57 am

    That looks delicious, Amy! When I have the time I enjoy cooking rather involved recipes, but that rarely happens these days. It’s nice to find alternative methods that are just as tasty and healthy.

    • Amy February 6, 2013, 10:00 am

      Hi Jen,

      I know what you mean. Once I made this dish a couple of times, I didn’t need a recipe anymore and it became one of those things that I could just “whip up” whenever I had the veggies on hand.

      Hope you like it!

  • Candy Lyons February 6, 2013, 9:44 am


    That looks great — and it looks easy. I am all for easy these days. See you around the ‘hood, as soon as it gets warm enough fo everyone to venture out.


    • Amy February 6, 2013, 9:58 am

      Hi Candy,

      Easy is the name of the game here. Plus I love how it’s healthy and combines two food groups. Let me know how you like it.

      Looking forward to the socializing that comes with warmer weather too,