Broccoli Rabe and Chive Pesto Orecchiete, Sunflower “Parm” & Smoky Chickpeas

Created by Laura Wright
5 from 3 votes

Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and chive pesto is a fresh and flavourful meal with lots of satisfying texture. Soft and creamy pasta with crisp chickpeas! Naturally nut-free, vegan, and perfect for Spring.

An up close shot of orecchiette pasta with crispy chickpeas on top, in a green pesto sauce.
Overhead shot of ingredients for a broccoli rabe orecchiete pasta dish, all on a marble background.
Overhead shot of trimmed broccoli rabe stalks and leaves on a wood cutting board.
Two images show chickpeas on a baking sheet with spices and blanched broccoli rabe.

We’re finally getting some glimpses of Spring here in southern Ontario. We had a muddy and messy hike last weekend (Cleo loooved it hehe), saw lots of bees buzzing, ate a bunch of salads, put our feet in the grass, and just found every reason to do everything outside. It was healing in an easy, natural, and not-too-deep kind of way. An everyday sense of healing ;)

The sunshine, warmer days, and extended daylight always have me streamlining our meals. Quicker fixes for big flavor and a nourishing essence take priority because there’s always so much to do in this season (out of obligation, but also just for fun).

It’s definitely too early for any local produce, so we’re still getting the goods from the grocery store—full disclosure! But this orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and chive pesto definitely feels spring-y enough for me. It’s super green with all of those slightly bitter and fresh onion-y flavours. I keep the pesto nut-free with a sunflower seed base because I honestly enjoy it just as much (see also: my sunflower romesco). We top the pasta with smoky roasted chickpeas and some sunflower-based “cheesy” sprinkle too. Bonus drizzles of good olive oil and chili flakes are highly recommended.

I have a budget coffee/spice grinder almost exclusively for nut and seed-based vegan “parmesan.” I just throw whatever nut or seed in there along with nutritional yeast, sea salt, and maybe some garlic powder/other spices if I’m in the mood. I find these cheese-like sprinkles add so much to almost any savoury food. As a result, the grinder is very seriously one of my most-used appliances. I also use it to grind whole spices and a whole lot of flaxseed (for my smoothies and flax “eggs”).

I would probably serve this pasta with a Boston or bibb lettuce salad with a simple mustard dressing. More green is always a good thing. But also, just a giant bowl of this pasta is pretty great on its own. See my recipe headnotes for more suggestions for adapting/freestyling this one. I think the ultimate customization would be eating this pasta outside though. Happy spring :D

Image shows a food processor filled with ingredients for a broccoli rabe and chive pesto.
Up close shot of some green pesto on a black spatula.
Image shows orecchiette pasta draining in a colander in a sink.
Image shows a shallow, braiser-style pot of orecchiette pasta with crispy chickpeas on top, in a green pesto sauce.
Image shows a bowl of orecchiette pasta with crispy chickpeas on top, in a green pesto sauce.

Broccoli Rabe and Chive Pesto Orecchiete, Sunflower “Parm” & Smoky Chickpeas

Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and chive pesto is a fresh and flavourful meal. Naturally nut-free, vegan, and perfect for Spring. Only ten ingredients!
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings 4


  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 6 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • sea salt & ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe (about 400 grams), tough stems trimmed
  • cup roughly chopped chives, plus extra for garnish
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ¼ cups sunflower seeds, toasted & divided
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 lb orecchiette pasta


  • For my GF friends, use any gluten-free small pasta shape that you like. Proceed with the recipe as written.
  • Sauteed zucchini noodles as a grain-free option would be great! There should be enough moisture from the zucchini to make the pesto and noodles come together nicely. If not, just use a splash of water.
  • We enjoyed reheated leftovers of this pasta with chopped kalamata olives, extra sautéed broccoli rabe, and some roasted grape tomatoes. It was deluxe and delicious.
  • If you haven’t tried broccoli rabe (sometimes called rapini)  before, it has a distinct and strong bitter flavour that most people either love or hate. Just an FYI going in ;)


  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat and set aside.
  • Dry the chickpeas thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel and transfer them to the baking sheet. Toss the chickpeas with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Roast the chickpeas for 17-20 minutes (stirring at the halfway point), or until slightly crispy, browned, and chewy. Set aside.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium high heatl. Remove and reserve the leaves from the broccoli rabe stalks. Chop the stalks into 2-inch pieces, leaving the floret at the end as a whole piece. Drop broccoli rabe stalks and florets into the boiling water and cook until slightly softened, about two minutes. Drop the leaves into the water as well and cook until they wilt, about 10 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the broccoli rabe and place it on a clean kitchen towel. Reserve the cooking water.
  • Dry the broccoli rabe and then transfer it to a food processor. To the food processor, add the chives, garlic, lemon juice, 1 cup of the sunflower seeds, salt, pepper, and remaining olive oil. Pulse the mixture until you have a slightly chunky paste. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and set aside.
  • In a spice grinder (or back into the cleaned out food processor bowl), grind the remaining sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, and some salt until you have a coarse powder that tastes a bit cheesy. Set aside.
  • Bring the broccoli rabe cooking water back to a boil. Add the orecchiette to the water and cook according to package directions. Before draining, reserve a full cup of the pasta/broccoli rabe cooking water.
  • Return the large pot to the stove over medium heat. Add the drained pasta to the pot along with the broccoli rabe and chive pesto and a big splash of the reserved cooking water. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and then stir. Add more water if the pasta seems dry. Keep stirring until the pasta is hot and creamy all the way through.
  • Serve the pasta with smoky chickpeas on top, chili flakes, drizzles of olive oil, and the sunflower parm.
25/04/2018 (Last Updated 31/10/2022)
Posted in: autumn, bitter, broccoli, chickpeas, earthy, gluten free option, main course, nut free, pasta, quick, refined sugar-free, roasted, salty, side dish, spring, summer, vegan, winter


5 from 3 votes (2 ratings without comment)

Recipe Rating

  • Dana

    5 stars
    This was amazing and definitely all about the pesto for me.  Probably one of the best vegan pestos ever.  I can never find broccoli rabe locally, so I used regular broccoli. I also didn’t have sunflower seeds on hand, so used roasted pistachios. Fresh herbs never fail to elevate and the chives in this pesto were perfect. Just yum.

  • Kate

    Would it be possible to make the pesto in advance and the chicpeas/pasta day of consumption? If so, how long do you think it would keep for in the fridge? Thanks!

    • Laura

      Yes you could make the pesto up to 5 days in advance! After refrigeration, it may need a bit more liquid to loosen up in the pan with the pasta.

  • Donna in Inwood

    Wow — broccoli rabe pesto. I love that idea! I will definitely try. And chives and sunflower seeds — what a nice mix. I bet the sunflower seeds soften out the broccoli rabe a bit. I’m putting this on my list to try!

  • Phoebe

    I love your use of the cheese-like sprinkles! That does sound like a delicious addition. I’m looking forward to your recipes in the coming months as our growing season in Florida is slowing down, yours is just getting started so I can live vicariously through your abundance of fresh produce :)

  • Nikki

    Oh my goodness! Your recipes look so tasty that I feel myself fangirling over what to cook next! I really appreciate your attention to detail and the variety in the vegetarian dishes! Thanks so much!

  • Kelsey @ Appeasing a Food Geek

    Oh I love this! Those smoky chickpeas are calling to me! Also, I bet it would taste even better outdoors ;) xo

    • Laura

      A lot of the chickpeas did not make it to the pasta ;)

  • Cassie Tran

    I have only had vegan pesto a few times, but I love it every single time. This vegan pesto looks so vibrant and beautiful! Absolutely LOVE the way the chickpeas are roasted to add a nice crunch!

    • Laura

      Vegan pesto is the best! I never miss the cheese, honestly. Thanks so much for your kind compliments too :)

  • Jess @choosingchia

    This pasta looks so yummy and perfect for spring! FINALLY getting some spring weather here in Montreal too! Can’t wait to start cooking up all the spring recipes :)

    • Laura

      We really earn our spring enjoyment on the eastern end of Canada hehe.

  • christine

    This looks like just the thing right now! I love dishes like this, and anything that speaks of Spring is winning me over right now. We went for a hike this weekend too! It felt amazing to finally be able to do that :)
    I roasted chickpeas last week in my oven and it was a total disaster… they were “popping” and made an absolute mess of my oven (to the extent that we had to do this cleaning cycle process twice hah), so! do you have any tips? or is this just how it is? I’m ready to resort to the crispy chickpeas you can buy because it was such a chore lol

    • Laura

      Hi Christine!
      Your chickpea ordeal sounds awful. Are you thoroughly drying them before tossing them with oil, spices etc? I think that’s the most crucial step of the entire chickpea roasting process. I also find that the popping is more under control when I use a piece of parchment paper on the baking sheet. Something about the contact with the hot metal makes them want to jump I think hehe. Hope this is a little helpful. No shame in buying your crispy chickpeas either :)

  • Patricia Scarpin

    I make vegan pesto quite often, but have never made it with sunflower seeds. This looks amazing and so nutritious! Such a vibrant green color, beautiful.

    • Laura

      Hope you give the sunflower seeds a try (and that you love it)!