This super easy orzo pesto salad will become your go-to fresh pasta salad. It’s as simple as mixing orzo with lots of herby pesto, tomatoes, cheese and olives, is fab for feeding a crowd, keeps really well and is full of Mediterranean flavours everyone will love.
I think this salad might possibly be my desert island dish. It’s something my mum used to make all the time back in New Zealand and it never fails to disappoint.
It’s got classic Caprese flavours going on, with the added excitement of Kalamata olives (the superior olives by far am I right?!) and a little creamy feta to up the luxurious factor. There’s just something about this combination of flavours, mixed with the orzo that’s just SO delicious. My boyfriend can often be found sneaking spoonfuls from the fridge whenever I make this – it’s genuinely that good.
This is a brilliant one year-round and is particularly fab for taking along to barbecues or potlucks because it keeps so well. I love making a big batch on Sunday to enjoy for lunch throughout the week.
Only a handful of ingredients go into this easy salad – and there are lots of swaps you can make, based on what you have to hand.
- Orzo. I LOVE orzo in pasta salads. It’s a small, almost rice-like pasta shape that is brilliant in this dish because it matches the size of all the other ingredients, and is easily picked up with a spoon (key in my opinion!) But, you can use another small dried pasta shape like macaroni or fusilli if you can’t find orzo.
- Pesto. Try to find a good quality, fresh pesto if you can because it will really make the dish. The pesto is the primary flavour so you want it to taste good! If you’d like to make your own, give my pesto recipe a go (I promise it’s super easy!)
- Cherry tomatoes. I like vine cherry tomatoes because they have the best flavour and much like with pesto, it’s key to use good quality ingredients here.
- Olives. I’m not the biggest fan of olives, EXCEPT for Kalamata olives. They are just such delicious little flavour bombs and I always have a jar in my fridge. You can use whatever olive you prefer here if you don’t have Kalamata.
- Pine nuts. These little beauties bring texture and crunch to the dish so don’t skip them. They can be expensive though, so you can replace them with a different nut or seed. Walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds would work well.
How to make it
Start by getting your orzo into a large pot, along with salt and water. Bring it to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, until al dente (you want it to have a bit of a bite still). Drain, then rise the orzo thoroughly with cold water. This is because you don’t want the orzo to stick together in big clumps which will happen if you don’t rinse the starch off. It also cools the orzo down quickly so you can add the rest of the salad ingredients immediately.
While the orzo is cooking, prepare the rest of the salad ingredients. Chop your cherry tomatoes into quarters (I like quartering them because then they’re closer in size to the orzo and are easier to eat), chop the Kalamata olives in half, grate your parmesan cheese and toast your pine nuts.
PRO TIP: Be careful when you’re toasting the pine nuts because they can easily burn. I like to pop them into a small, dry pan, then stir them for a couple of minutes until they start to smell a bit ‘toasty’ and have golden spots on either side.
Once your orzo is cooked and rinsed and your salad ingredients are prepped, it’s as simple as adding everything to a large bowl, giving it a very good mix to make sure the pesto is coating every piece of orzo and then dishing up. I like to keep a couple of olives, tomatoes and some cheese aside to scatter on top so you can clearly see what’s in the salad!
Got a question?
I find that this salad really can be a meal in itself, but it’s wonderful as a side to a barbecue or picnic. I love that it’s so easy to prepare in advance and transports well so it’s a great one to take along to events or parties to enjoy with friends and family.
You certainly can! In fact, I often think it tastes even better the next day. It will last for 5 days in the fridge in a covered container, but if you’re preparing it to take to a barbecue or picnic, I’d wait to add the cherry tomatoes until the day of if possible. They can get a little soggy when chopped in the fridge.
You can really add anything to this salad – sometimes I’ll throw in diced cucumber or red bell peppers. If you want to keep that lovely salty quality, try using capers or sundried tomatoes.
Yes, you can! If you can’t find orzo, go for another small dried pasta shape like macaroni or fusilli.
Technically yes, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. When defrosted, you’ll find it has a strange, gummy texture and just won’t be a good experience to eat.
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If you make this recipe, I’d love to hear from you! You can leave me a comment below.Print