Orzo salad with pesto is quick, healthy, fresh, and easy to make. The salad is bursting with flavor from the fresh veggies and basil pesto vinaigrette.Jump to Recipe
We love cooking with orzo. It has become a staple in our home because there is so much to do with it. This orzo salad with pesto is one of those versatile recipes that can be served with dinner as a side, as the main dish, or for lunch.
I was inspired by spring when I thought of this recipe. As warmer weather nears, I wanted to create a recipe that was vibrant in color and flavor. This recipe features peas, radish, and a lemon basil pesto vinaigrette. It’s a beautiful dish that tastes as good as it looks.
- Why You’ll Love Orzo Salad with Pesto
- Ingredients to Make Orzo Salad with Pesto
- What Is Orzo?
- Substitutes for Orzo
- How to Make Orzo Salad with Pesto
- Serving Orzo Salad Warm or Cold
- Other Variations to Try
- Tips for Making Orzo Pesto Pasta Salad
- Storing Basil Pesto Orzo Salad
- Other Salad Recipes to Try
- Healthy Orzo Salad with Pesto
Why You’ll Love Orzo Salad with Pesto
- It’s extremely easy to make. The orzo cooks up just like rice. Everything goes into a small pot, cover and cook until it’s done. The veggies and dressing can be prepared while the orzo is cooking. Everything is mixed in together at the end and it’s ready to serve. It’s super simple and pretty much fail proof.
- All you need is 15 minutes. That’s it. The orzo takes about 12 minutes to cook through about about 3 minutes for the pot to reach a bowl. Since everything can be prepped while the orzo is cooking you end up saving a lot of time in the kitchen.
- Clean up is simple. All you need to make the orzo salad with pesto is a small pot, a small bowl for the dressing, and a cutting board.
- Orzo and pesto salad is light and healthy. This salad is meant to be filling but not in a heavy way. The herb vinaigrette and raw vegetables make this salad a great option for those who want to incorporate more vitamins and minerals into their salad but still want substance from the orzo.
- The risoni pesto salad recipe is versatile. Feel free to dress it up even more using some items you already have in your fridge or pantry. It’s fun to make recipes your own by adding a twist to them. We will get more into some ideas on this later.
Ingredients to Make Orzo Salad with Pesto
1 cup orzo - makes up the base of the salad, see below for information on substitutes
2 cups chicken broth - to infuse the orzo with more flavor, you can substitute any broth you’d like or water
Salt and pepper to taste - to enhance flavor even more
3 radishes sliced thinly - for added crunch and fiber
10oz cherry tomatoes sliced in half - any tomato would work in this recipe whether you choose a chopped roma, or multi-color grape tomatoes, the choice is yours. Tomatoes bring color and flavor making it so good.
1/2 cup frozen peas thawed - consider blanching the peas if you like a softer bite. To blanch simply place the peas in boiling water for 60-90 seconds and then place in a bath of cold water when done to stop the cooking process and preserve the freshness.
Basil Pesto Vinaigrette
1/2 lemon squeezed - use fresh lemon juice for the best result
2 tablespoons prepared pesto - you can make your own or use your favorite store-bought brand
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil - consider choosing a flavored oil, I actually made this with a basil infused olive oil and it was delicious
What Is Orzo?
Orzo is a thin, oval, rice shaped pasta that also goes by the names little pasta, risoni, and puntalette. Orzo is typically made with semolina flour and can be found made with whole grain flour. The pasta originated in Italy and has been extremely popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.
It typically takes 2 cups of liquid for every 1 cup of orzo to cook through. Orzo is typically cooked similarly to rice in that the orzo absorbs the liquid and there is very little to no liquid to drain once the cooking is complete.
Substitutes for Orzo
Don’t have orzo on hand but still want a pasta salad with pesto? There are other substitutes you can use.
- Rice: Orzo has a very similar shape to rice. They also share the same liquid to grain ratio when using a long grain white rice. If you choose to substitute brown rice be sure to follow the package directions before cooking. This is also a great option if you're looking for a gluten free alternative.
- Ditalini Pasta: This pasta is also considered a little pasta and resembles orzo in the fact that it’s very small and is commonly used in soups and salads. If using ditalini be sure to boil in salted water and drain the same way you’d cook normal pasta.
- Couscous: Couscous is a delicious pearl shaped pasta. It would be perfect for this recipe. Much like the ditalini pasta I recommend boiling the couscous in salted water and draining when done.
- Arborio Rice: This is the rice used to make risotto. It’s a high starch, short grain rice and cooking it releases starch leaving a nice creamy texture when it’s done. Using arborio rice in this recipe will give a similar texture to risotto. If using this you’ll need 1 1/2 cups broth for 1 cup of rice.
How to Make Orzo Salad with Pesto
Step 1. Add chicken stock, orzo, and salt and pepper to a small pot over high heat. Bring the broth and orzo to a boil. Once the chicken broth has started to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 10-12 minutes or until the orzo is cooked through and the broth has been absorbed.
Step 2. While the orzo is cooking make the basil pesto vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon juice, pesto, and olive oil until fully combined. Set aside until the orzo is done. You can also use this time to slice the vegetables and prep for the salad.
Step 3. When the orzo is done and fully cooked through stir in the radishes, grape tomatoes, and peas. Stir until well combined. Top the salad with the basil pesto vinaigrette and stir until the orzo is covered with the dressing. Serve immediately or refrigerate and serve later.
Serving Orzo Salad Warm or Cold
I personally recommend serving the lemon pesto orzo salad cold or immediately after it has been cooked. When it comes off of the stove the orzo will be warm but will immediately cool down when the vegetables and vinaigrette are added. I personally think the salad is served best immediately.
The orzo with pesto and tomatoes is delicious cold too. I meal prepped this for lunches one week for work and I really enjoyed it served as a cold pasta salad. The olive oil and basil keep the orzo from sticking together so whether you eat it immediately or refrigerated it’s going to be delicious.
Other Variations to Try
- Try using sun dried tomatoes instead of grape tomatoes. Sun-dried tomatoes have a concentrated tomato flavor similar to that of tomato paste. They’re chewy and commonly kept in oil. It’s a delicious substitute.
- Make homemade basil pesto instead of using store-bought. Pesto is made up of basil leaves, parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, and garlic. The ingredients are so simple and if you have extra basil on hand you should definitely consider making a homemade pesto. The flavor will be more fresh and powerful than store-bought. If you're feeling creative you could make a sun dried tomato pesto by adding sun dried tomatoes and make the flavor more interesting.
- Add cheese. My personal favorites to add to this recipe are feta and parmesan. Feta is a light crumbly cheese that’s so good and light in flavor. Parmesan is a harder cheese that’s packed with flavor. Pesto already has parmesan but adding more could certainly take it to the next level. Freshly grated is best!
- Turn it into a caprese orzo pasta salad by adding fresh mozzarella. The flavor affinity of tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and mozzarella are so delicious and adding them to make a caprese pasta salad with pesto would be delicious.
- Add meat. Make this meal more complete by adding your favorite meat. I personally love this with sliced grilled chicken or blackened shrimp.
- Make it vegan by using your own homemade pesto without chese.
Tips for Making Orzo Pesto Pasta Salad
- Consider rinsing the orzo. Since it’s serve cool in this pesto salad, rinsing will remove the light coating of starch on the outer layer of the pasta which will keep the pasta from sticking together.
- Don’t add oil to the pot while cooking the orzo. Yes, it’s tempting to add oil to keep the orzo from sticking but in doing so you risk the lemon pesto vinaigrette not sticking to the pasta and not being as flavorful.
- Make sure the orzo is al dente for the best results. Orzo is a pasta that you do not want to overcook. It will become mush very easily. Orzo only needs to cook around 9-10 minutes. Be sure to taste the orzo around this time to make sure it’s not getting too done.
Storing Basil Pesto Orzo Salad
Storing the pesto orzo salad is so easy. It can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. I would not recommend freezing the salad because the noodles will have a weird texture.
Other Salad Recipes to Try
Healthy Orzo Salad with Pesto
- 1 cup orzo
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 radishes sliced
- 10 oz grape tomatoes sliced in half
- 1/2 cup frozen peas thawed
Basil Pesto Vinaigrette
- 1/2 lemon squeezed
- 2 tablespoons pesto
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Add chicken stock, orzo, and salt and pepper to a small pot over high heat. Bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce heat and cover. Simmer until orzo is cooked and the broth has been absorbed about 10 minutes.
- While the orzo is cooking whisk together the lemon juice, pesto, and olive oil. Set aside.
- When the orzo is done stir in the radishes, grape tomatoes, and peas. Top with the basil pesto vinaigrette and serve.