This pesto orzo salad recipe is loaded with fresh vegetables and a bright lemony basil pesto dressing. Cold pasta salads are perfect for those hot summer months! This is the perfect side dish for a summer bbq, potluck or even a weeknight dinner.
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Why This Pesto Orzo Pasta Recipe Is The Best!
This pesto orzo pasta salad is a great way to use those fresh summer vegetables! Every bite is bursting with the flavor from the fresh pesto, sweet tomatoes and earthy goat cheese. If you love a good pasta salad, this will be a great addition for either a main dish salad or the next time you have a picnic on a hot summer day.
What Is Pesto?
Pesto is a sauce that originated in Italy. The traditional ingredients that are in pesto are basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese although there are many variations of the basic recipe like this pistachio pesto recipe.
orzo- orzo is a rice shaped pasta that is prepared like pasta but can be served in a similar method as rice. It is added to soups and salads and can be served hot or cold.
tomatoes- I used grape tomatoes for this salad recipe, but you can use juicy cherry tomatoes or Roma tomatoes if you prefer.
basil- fresh basil is the only way to make your own pesto sauce. I have basil plants growing on my patio but you can buy fresh basil leaves in the produce section of your grocery store.
First start a large pot of salted water over high heat. Cook the orzo according to the package instructions. You want to make sure to cook the pasta so that it is al dente. If you are not familiar with this term it is an Italian phrase that means not mushy, so the pasta is still firm when you bite into it. This is important so that when you stir the other ingredients into the salad the pasta will hold its shape well and not mush together.
Once the orzo is cooked, drain the water from the pasta and run cold water over it. This will stop the cooking process and help the orzo cool down quicker. Shake off any excess water from the pasta and transfer to a large bowl.
While the orzo cooks, make the pesto dressing. Add the basil leaves, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil and salt to the bottom of a food processor.
While the motor is running drizzle the lemon juice through the chute of the food processor.
I like to add a lot of lemon juice to my pesto because I love that fresh lemony flavor. Pesto can have a very rich flavor and I find the lemon juice makes the pesto not as overwhelming.
Once the pesto is finished, stir it into the cooked orzo. Stir to coat the orzo in the pesto sauce. This is a light coating of pesto that is just enough to give the salad flavor and keep the orzo from clumping together.
Add the rest of the veggies to the salad. I like to cut my tomatoes in half and cut the strips of roasted red pepper into smaller bite-sized pieces.
Once all the ingredients are thoroughly stirred together, transfer the orzo salad to a serving bowl.
This salad can be eaten on its own as a light lunch or dinner. You can always add a piece of lean protein like grilled salmon or fish. If you want to keep with the Mediterranean theme try this feta spinach burger or skillet chicken caprese to complete your meal!
Substitutions and Additions
olives- I love kalamata olives, but any variety of olive will taste great in this recipe. Or if you are not a fan simply omit the salty olives from the recipe them from the recipe.
cheese- I love goat cheese but there are so many others that taste great in this salad. Try fresh mozzarella cheese or creamy feta cheese as a substitute.
walnuts- I always have walnuts on hand and use them in my homemade basil pesto, but you can use pine nuts instead.
pesto recipe-if homemade pesto is too much of a challenge on a busy weeknight, you can always grab a jar of store-bought pesto. It is located in the pasta aisle of most grocery stores.
Because of the chopped tomatoes and cucumbers the pesto orzo salad will stay fresh for 1-2 days. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Looking For Other Easy Side Dish Recipes? Try These!
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Easy Pesto Orzo Pasta Salad
- food processor or blender
- 16 ounces orzo pasta
- 1 cup fresh basil, tightly packed
- ¼ cup walnuts
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
- ⅓ cup Kalamata olives
- 1 English cucumber, chopped
- ⅓ cup roasted red pepper, chopped
- ⅓ cup goat cheese crumbles
- Heat a large pot over water over high heat and cook orzo according to the package directions. When the orzo has finished cooking to the desired texture (I prefer al dente) run under cold water and drain well. Set the cooked orzo aside in a large mixing bowl.
- While orzo is cooking make the pesto by adding basil leaves, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil and salt to the base of a food processor or blender. While blending drizzle in the lemon juice until the pesto is the desired consistency (up to 3 tablespoons).
- Stir the pesto into the orzo. Add the chopped tomatoes, olives, cucumber, roasted red pepper and goat cheese into the bowl with the orzo and stir to combine the ingredients. Serve immediately or chill for 1-2 hours before serving.