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

5 from 2 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 2 votes
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 50 mins
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: 25/04/2018)
Posted in: autumn, bitter, earthy, gluten free option, main course, nut free, pasta, quick, refined sugar-free, roasted, salty, side dish, spring, summer, vegan, winter
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