This orzo pesto salad is super easy to make and is full of Mediterranean veggies and flavors! You’ll even make your own basil pesto from scratch in just 3 minutes! This is perfect as a meal or a side dish at your summer parties!Jump to Recipe
Why You Will Love This Recipe
This pesto orzo pasta salad is an all-in-one meal but also a great side dish for your get-togethers! This salad is great when all the summer vegetables are fresh from your farmers market or garden. I love it too because – since there is no mayo – it can stand up to the summer heat when having a bbq with friends and family.
Orzo Pesto Pasta Salad Ingredients
This recipe has quite a few ingredients – but they are all so fresh and delicious – I just couldn’t stop adding vegetables!! You’ll want to dice all your veggies into bite-sized pieces.
Here’s everything you need:
- Veggies: These are what I had on hand and my favorite fresh vegetables! There’s a mix of textures and colors as well – so it’s beautiful. That said – if you like other veggies – feel free to swap!
- Red Onion
- Marinated Artichokes – you don’t have to use marinated but that’s my preference
- Kalamata Olives – no pits obviously! You can swap with black olives if you like but I LOVE kalamata!!
- Cherry Tomatoes – grape tomatoes also work well or even a regular tomato, diced
- Salami slices – I wanted some meat in the dish – you can easily leave this out if you like
- Feta Cheese – this is essential! I like to buy a block of feta and crumble it myself – you get more cheese and better chunks!
- Lemon Juice
- Salt & Pepper
- Basil Pesto – I made my own but you can 100% use pre-made pesto – I like the Bertolli brand
- olive oil
- fresh basil leaves
- pistachios – lots of folks use pine nuts but I had pistachios and they worked great!
- lemon juice
- fresh grated parmesan cheese – don’t use the pre-grated kind!! Always fresh! It takes 2 seconds to grate and has so much more rich, nutty flavor
- minced garlic
How to Make Pesto Orzo Salad
The most time-consuming part of this recipe is all the chopping! You can get most of it done while your orzo is cooking. Here’s what you need to do:
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and prepare orzo according to al dente package instructions.
- 1 cup dried orzo (about 1/2 box) makes about 3.5 cups cooked.
- Be sure to drain the pasta and then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Shake and drain well.
- If you’re making your own pesto, put all pesto ingredients (olive oil, basil, pistachios, lemon juice, Parmesan, salt, garlic) into blender or food processor and blend until becomes a smooth paste, about 3-4 minutes.
- In a large bowl, add all pasta salad ingredients EXCEPT spinach and toss to combine. Cover and let chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
- Toss salad with spinach just before serving and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Pasta salad is always something that can be tweaked based on your favorite flavors. Here are some ways to change it up:
- Caprese-style – keep it simple with basil pesto, fresh mozzarella pearls, tomatoes
- Roasted vegetables – instead of keeping your veggies raw, roast them. This would be great with zucchini, mushrooms, bell pepper & eggplant
- Don’t like Olives? Swap them with sun dried tomatoes!
- Meatless – Add bigger veggies like broccoli or portabella mushrooms to make it a complete meatless meal
Tips, Tricks & FAQs
Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta. It’s a very little pasta shape that works well with this because it keeps the salad light!
No definitely not! I would use a small pasta that is about the same size as the vegetables. Mini bow-ties would be great!
Yes definitely! This was my first time making pesto – it is really fresh and delicious! But in a pinch – use the jarred pesto!
I prefer Parmesan Reggiano or Pecorino Romano.
I prefer olive oil – regular or extra virgin. I think it adds a lot of flavor and balance. I would avoid using vegetable oil.
No – definitely not. I think it just adds another layer of texture and flavor. You can use pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, cashews or even almonds.
Yes definitely! Rinse the orzo with cold water to stop the cooking and shake to drain.
Yes! It probably will taste even better the next day. Be sure to not add in the spinach until you’re ready to serve as it will get limp very quickly.
It stays good for 5-7 days. How do I know? I had 9 cups of it to eat. By myself.
I always use airtight containers – I prefer the glass dishes with the lock-tight lids.
What to serve with Pesto Pasta
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Orzo Pesto Pasta Salad
- Prepare orzo according to package directions. 1 cup dried makes about 3.5 cups pasta. Be sure to drain the pasta and then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Shake and drain well.1 cup dried orzo
- If you're making your own pesto, put all pesto ingredients (olive oil, basil, pistachios, lemon juice, Parmesan, salt, garlic) into blender or food processor and blend until becomes a smooth paste.2 cups fresh basil leaves, 1/4 cup pistachios, 1/2 lemon, 1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp minced garlic, 1/2 cup olive oil
- Add all pasta salad ingredients EXCEPT spinach to a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.1 cup red onion, 1 cup marinated artichokes, 1/2 cup kalamata olives, 1 cup cherry tomatoes, 2/3 cup cucumber (1 mini), 1 cup salami, 6 oz feta, 1 cup basil pesto, 1/2 lemon, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- Toss salad with spinach just before serving and a squeeze of fresh lemon.2 cups spinach