This flavorful pesto orzo salad is the perfect side dish for summer! Made with a few simple ingredients in under 15 minutes, you’ll want this salad recipe on deck all season long.
On a hot summer day, the last thing I want to do is spend hours in the kitchen cooking and eating a warm meal. That’s when pasta salad comes in!
With minimal cooking and a cool, refreshing dish, this easy orzo salad is the perfect lunch or side dish for summer. Not only does it allow you to savor some of the best flavors of summer, but it is also super quick and easy to make.
The best thing about this delicious pasta salad is it only requires a few simple ingredients to make the perfect side dish! Here’s what you’ll need:
Orzo: These tiny noodles are one of my favorites for pasta salad because they don’t overwhelm the pasta salad and they have a lot of surface area to absorb sauce.
Pesto: You can use homemade pesto or store-bought pesto for this pasta salad. I prefer to make my own pesto, but either one will be great!
Fresh veggies: Grape tomatoes and red onions will be the fresh veggies of choice for this pasta salad.
Veggies from a jar: I love the texture, flavor, and saltiness that marinated vegetables in a jar add to pasta salad. For this recipe, we will use kalamata olives and artichoke hearts.
Mozzarella pearls: Tiny mozzarella balls are a tasty addition to this dish. If you can’t find the pearls, you can cut up or pull apart a ball of fresh mozzarella.
Lemon juice: A splash of lemon juice brings this whole pasta salad together. The bit of acid it adds makes the flavor complete. For an extra-lemony flavor, add lemon zest too.
Pesto Orzo Salad Tips
- Make sure your pasta is thoroughly cooked. I’ve found that the package instructions for orzo leave it undercooked (this does vary, though). Once pasta is cooled, it shrinks up even more and can become hard. I recommend tasting your orzo and being sure that it’s very soft all the way through the center.
- Use fresh ingredients. The fresher your tomatoes, pasta, pesto, and cheese are, the better the salad will be!
- Rinse your pasta in cold water and toss it in pesto immediately after draining it. Orzo tends to clump together, but these steps will avoid that.
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Try different cheese: If mozzarella pearls aren’t your thing, you can try feta cheese, cubed low-moisture mozzarella, or parmesan cheese instead.
Add more veggies: You can use just about any veggie that sounds good! I like using bell peppers, arugula, or cucumbers when I want more veggies.
Add some protein: If you want to make this a main dish, you can add toasted nuts, cubed salami, roasted chicken, chickpeas, or white beans.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long is this good for?
This pasta salad is a great meal prep dish as it tastes even better with time to marinate! It should be good for about five days if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You may need to refresh it with some more pesto before serving it after a few days.
Where do I find orzo?
Orzo is available in the pasta aisle of most grocery stores. If you can’t find it in your local store, you can get it on Amazon or use a different pasta shape.
How do I make my own pesto?
Pesto is made by tossing fresh basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese in a food processor and blending until a smooth sauce forms. For the full recipe, check out this super easy homemade basil pesto.
How do I make this vegan?
This pasta salad is a delicious vegan dish with a couple of substitutions. Make or purchase a vegan pesto sauce (my carrot top pesto is vegan!) and omit the cheese for a nice dairy-free pasta salad.