Pesto Orzo Salad is packed with flavorful ingredients like juicy cherry tomatoes, briny kalamata olives, baby spinach, and creamy mozzarella pearls. The pasta is coated with a tasty pesto dressing that can be made with homemade or store bought basil pesto. This salad is a great side dish for grilled meats or fish, and it's perfect for picnics, potlucks, and parties.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Pesto orzo salad is a simple and quick recipe that can be prepared in no time.
- Light and refreshing, making it perfect for a summer meal or a side dish.
- The combination of nutty orzo, tangy pesto, juicy tomatoes, and creamy mozzarella is a burst of flavors in your mouth.
- This recipe is versatile and can be easily customized to suit your taste preferences by adding additional ingredients like olives or grilled chicken.
- It can be served warm or chilled, making it a perfect option for meal prep or picnics.
- If you like pasta salads, make sure to also try this Red Lentil Pasta Salad with homemade Greek salad dressing.
Here are some tips on the ingredients for this Pesto Orzo Salad:
- Orzo pasta: you can use regular or whole wheat orzo pasta.
- Cherry tomatoes: use fresh cherry tomatoes that are ripe and flavorful. Grape tomatoes will also work.
- Kalamata olives: these dark purple olives have a smooth and meaty texture and a rich, fruity flavor.
- Baby spinach: use fresh baby spinach leaves that are tender and bright green.
- Mini mozzarella balls: mini mozzarella balls or pearls are both great or this salad but you can also use regular-sized fresh mozzarella and cut it into bite-sized pieces.
- Red onion: onion is totally optional in this salad! I like it for a bit of freshness and spiciness but you can skip it, if you prefer a milder tasting salad.
- Basil leaves: use fresh basil leaves for a fragrant and flavorful garnish.
No orzo? Check out this list of Best Substitututes for Orzo Pasta.
Pesto Salad Dressing
To make pesto salad dressing, you will need:
- Basil Pesto: use store bought or homemade pesto. I used Cucina & Amore Genovese Basil Pesto.
- Fresh Lemon Juice
- Olive Oil
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk or a fork and set aside.
Note: Store bought pesto tends to be thicker than homemade so you may need to adjust the thickness of the dressing by adding a bit more lemon juice or a tablespoon of cold water.
How to make Orzo Salad with Pesto
Step 1: Cook the orzo pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Step 2: In a large bowl, combine the cooked orzo pasta, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, baby spinach, mini mozzarella pearls, and red onion.
Step 3: Pour the pesto dressing over the pasta salad and toss to coat evenly.
Step 4: Garnish the salad with fresh basil leaves and serve.
This Pesto Orzo Salad is a perfect side dish that goes well with many main dishes. Here are some serving suggestions:
- Chicken or fish: serve this salad alongside grilled chicken or fish for a delicious weeknight meal. Try it with this Chicken Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta or with my Air Fryer Buffalo Chicken Tenders.
- Sandwiches: this easy pasta salad pairs well with sandwiches, wraps, and paninis.
- Potluck or picnic: perfect for summer bbq potlucks and picnics since it can be made ahead of time and served cold.
- Lunch or dinner: This salad can be served as a light lunch or dinner on its own with a glass of chilled white wine.
Storage and Meal Prep Tips
This Pesto Orzo Salad can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Here are some meal prep tips:
- Store the salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- If the salad looks dry, you can add a splash of olive oil or lemon juice before serving.
- Garnish the salad with fresh basil leaves just before serving to keep them fresh and fragrant.
- This salad is also great for meal prep since it can be made ahead of time and stored in individual containers for easy lunches.
Variations and Substitutions
- Orzo can be swapped for other type of small pasta, such as small macaroni or ditalini
- To make this salad gluten-free, use gluten-free orzo pasta
- Add more crunchy veggies if you'd like, such as diced bell peppers or fresh cucumbers
- If you don't like red onion, swap it for sweet onion or chopped green onions
- Instead of mozzarella, you can also use crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese
Orzo pasta is a small, rice-shaped pasta that's popular in Mediterranean cuisine. It's made from durum wheat flour and water and is typically used in soups, stews, and pasta salads. Orzo pasta has a slightly chewy texture and a mild, nutty flavor.
Orzo is a type of pasta that is shaped like a grain of rice. It is commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine and is made from wheat flour and water, like most other types of pasta. Despite its rice-like appearance, it is not a type of rice.
Orzo pasta is commonly used in both Greek and Italian cuisine, so it can be considered a staple ingredient in both cuisines. In Greece, orzo is often used in soups, stews, and salads, while in Italy it is commonly used in pasta salads and other cold dishes.
Yes! Instead of cooling the orzo, just drain it on a colander and then mix with the pesto dressing and all salad ingredients. Serve immediately.
If you try my Orzo Pesto Salad be sure to leave me a comment and give this recipe a rating. I would love to hear from you and see how it turned out for you! You can also share and tag me on Instagram!
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Orzo Pesto Salad
- 10 oz orzo pasta uncooked
- 1 ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup kalamata olives halved
- 2 cups baby spinach chopped
- 8 oz mozzarella pearls or mini mozzarella balls drained if packed in liquid
- ¼ cup red onion diced finely (optional)
- fresh basil for garnish
Pesto Salad Dressing
- ¼ cup basil pesto homemade or store bought
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 1 pinch salt
- Cook the orzo pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to cool.
- Make the pesto dressing: whisk together the basil pesto, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside. If it's too thick, add a tablespoon of cold water.
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked orzo pasta, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, baby spinach, mini mozzarella pearls, and red onion.
- Pour the pesto dressing over the pasta salad and toss to coat evenly.
- Garnish with basil leaves and serve.