Pesto Orzo Salad – From my bowl

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The hearty pesto orzo salad is made with just a handful of ingredients and is bursting with fresh flavor. Ready in 25 minutes! Gluten-free, oil-free, and nut-free options.

The Pesto Orzo Salad consists of tender orzo pasta, juicy cherry tomatoes, hearty chickpeas and fresh herbs, all mixed with a dreamy arugula pesto dressing. Get out your favorite serving bowl and prepare to enjoy this delicious, easy side dish or light main course.

Table of contents
  1. Pasta salad meets homemade pesto
  2. What you need for the Pesto Orzo Salad
  3. How to Make Pesto Orzo Salad
  4. serving suggestions
  5. How to Store Pesto Orzo Salad
  6. Substitutions and Variations
  7. Recipe FAQs
  8. Pesto Orzo Salad recipe
Pesto Orzo Salad served on a plate with a side dish

Pasta salad meets homemade pesto

In case you didn’t know, pasta salads are my favorite jam. There are plenty of those on the blog—we have a buffalo cauliflower pasta salad, a Mediterranean pasta salad, a taco pasta salad, and a dill pickle pasta salad. And while you might think that covers it all, I noticed that we were missing one flavor I particularly like: pesto.

Pesto is one of my favorite sauces for the warmer spring and summer months. It’s packed with rich greens, buttery nuts and fresh garlic, then blended into a smooth, creamy dressing that can be drizzled or spread over almost anything (including orzo pasta salads!). Bring this perfect side dish to any summer barbecue, potluck, or get together this year and you’re guaranteed to be satisfied!

What you need for the Pesto Orzo Salad

As with most cold pasta salads, this pesto orzo salad recipe is incredibly customizable. I’ll share with you my favorite additions and the pesto you can use, but feel free to tweak things to suit your audience or personal tastes.

Ingredients for pesto and orzo salad on a marble kitchen countertop
  • Pesto: I especially love this orzo salad with my peppery arugula pesto, but it’s also delicious with my nut-free pesto, avocado pesto, or your favorite store-bought pesto of choice.
  • Tomatoes: Depending on the size, you can use either half or whole cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes. You can also use any chopped tomatoes of your choice, but I recommend juicy, sweet tomatoes for the best flavor.
  • Chickpeas: I can’t resist sneaking a little protein into my pasta salads. This gives them more volume and can also be used as a main course if desired. I chose to use canned chickpeas to make this recipe quick and easy, but you can use 1 3/4 cups dry-cooked chickpeas too.
  • Fresh Green: Fresh basil leaves and arugula are absolutely essential. They underline the taste of the pesto and round off the dish with a touch of freshness. Don’t skimp here!
  • Vegan Feta: This is optional but adds a salty, creamy touch to the pasta salad that I really love. Try a store-bought pesto or, if desired, try my “Feta” Marinated Tofu recipe.

How to Make Pesto Orzo Salad

Side-by-side images of the salad making process, with the image on the left showing the salad dressing and the image on the right showing the final version of the salad
  1. Cook Prepare the orzo according to package directions. drain And wash with cold water until the orzo is at room temperature.
  2. whisk Mix the pesto and vinegar in the bottom of a large bowl until smooth.
  3. Add to Add the room temperature orzo, tomatoes and chickpeas and mix. Add to Basil, optional vegan feta cheese, pine nuts, and fresh arugula. Fold so combine season with salt to taste.
  4. surcharge at room temperature or chilled.

Caitlin’s cooking tips

  • Cook the pasta al dente. The quickest way to ruin a pasta salad dish is to overcook the pasta, and orzo pasta salads are no exception! Most pasta box guides will have instructions on how to cook the pasta al dente. If not, however, reduce the cooking time by 1-2 minutes. The orzo pasta should be tender but not mushy. A bit of firmness should remain.
  • Toast your pine nuts. If you’ve never eaten roasted pine nuts, you’ll be delighted! They’re buttery, nutty, and have the ultimate flavor flavor. The fastest way to do this is in a dry pan on the stove. Add them over medium-low heat and cook for a few minutes until lightly golden and fragrant.
an enlarged image of the lettuce

serving suggestions

The best part about this Orzo Pesto Pasta Salad is that it only gets better with time. It’s the perfect meal prep for a quick weeknight meal, a nutritious lunch, or a hearty side dish. And since it’s best served at room temperature or chilled, it’s the ideal plant-based meal to take to picnics and barbecues all summer long.

If you’re looking for more orzo recipes, you’ll also love this Triple Tomato Basil Orzo Salad, this Lemon Pepper Orzo, and this Spring Orzo Salad with Peas!

How to Store Pesto Orzo Salad

Once prepared, this pesto salad will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. Store in a jar, airtight container or jar for optimal preservation.

Freezing and reheating is not recommended.

Substitutions and Variations

  • Gluten Free Option: Swap the wheat-based orzo pasta for gluten-free orzo pasta like cassava orzo or corn and rice-based orzo pasta. You can also use any other gluten-free shortcut pasta of your choice.
  • Nut Free Option: Use my nut-free vegan pesto recipe and swap the pine nuts for pumpkin seeds or raw sunflower seeds.
  • Oil-free option: Swap the pesto for my Oil-Free Avocado Pesto instead. The pesto and vinegar base will thicken but still be creamy and delicious.
  • Use a different protein: Replace the canned chickpeas with another plant-based protein of your choice, like kidney beans, my crispy tofu, or baked tempeh.

Recipe FAQs

Is orzo a rice or a pasta?

Although orzo looks like enlarged rice, it’s actually a type of pasta, typically wheat-based.

Does Orzo contain an egg?

Store-bought varieties of orzo pasta are usually made without eggs and contain wheat, water, and salt. However, fresh varieties are often prepared with egg to give them extra moisture and flavor. When buying orzo from the store, always read the ingredients just to be safe!

What is Orzo called in Italy?

The word orzo directly translates to “barley” in Italian, an ode to the fact that orzo resembles barley. Orzo is also called Risoni or Risi (big rice) in Italy.

Enjoy! If you make this recipe and want to share it on Facebook or Instagram, don’t forget to tag me @FromMyBowl + #FromMyBowl! I would also appreciate if you could leave a comment below with a recipe rating! Thank you for the support 😊

Pesto orzo salad in a bowl with wooden tongs

  • 8th ounces dry orzo
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt plus more to taste
  • 1/2 Cup Nut-free pesto or arugula pesto (or store-bought)
  • 3 tablespoon red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 10 ounces Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas drain and rinse
  • 1/2 Cup fresh basil chopped
  • 1/2 Cup vegan feta (Optional)
  • 1/4 Cup roasted pine nuts
  • 2 ounces fresh arugula or baby spinach

  • Cook the orzo: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the orzo and cook al dente according to package directions. Drain the orzo and rinse with cold water until the orzo itself has reached room temperature.

  • Make the dressing: Whisk together the pesto and vinegar in the bottom of a large bowl until smooth.

  • Mix: Add the orzo, tomatoes, and chickpeas to the bowl and mix until evenly combined. Add basil, feta (optional), pine nuts, and arugula. Gently fold into the salad. Season with additional salt if needed.

  • Surcharge: Serve immediately or leave in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

  • Gluten free: Use gluten-free orzo or substitute 8 ounces of your favorite gluten-free pasta
  • Oil free: Use my avocado pesto from this recipe instead!

Calories: 554kcalCarbohydrates: 69GProtein: 17GFat: 24GSaturated Fatty Acids: 4GPolyunsaturated fat: 4GMonounsaturated fatty acids: 2GCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 2514mgPotassium: 573mgFiber: 9GSugar: 5GVitamin A: 1487IUVitamin C: 23mgCalcium: 152mgIron: 4mg

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