Mediterranean orzo pesto salad is a cold pasta salad where all the flavors come together in perfect harmony. The orzo pasta pairs perfectly with the juicy cherry tomatoes, tangy feta cheese, and salty Kalamata olives. Finished with a sprinkle of fresh lemon juice, this pesto pasta salad is perfect as a side dish, main meal, picnic, BBQ, or potluck.
Why this Orzo Pesto Salad works
- Easy to make as a weeknight dinner
- Flavorful ingredients
- Perfect for potlucks and picnics
- You can enjoy it as a side salad, side dish, or a main course
What is Orzo?
Orzo is pasta shaped into a long oval. In Italy, orzo is classified as pastina or “little pasta.” Because of the small shape, orzo is often confused with rice. However, it is 100% pasta.
Thanks to its small shape, the orzo is highly versatile. It is often used in soups and salad recipes. It is also a popular side dish.
Homemade or store-bought pesto?
Traditional pesto combines basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese in a food processor to create a smooth paste. Making homemade pesto can be done in minutes, but the ingredients can also be costly. On the other hand, store-bought pesto is convenient and less expensive than making it at home, but it does not taste fresh.
Another option is a different pesto sauce, which is easy to make and uses less expensive ingredients. I love pesto rosso (sundried tomato pesto). Other unique takes on fresh pesto sauces include red peppers, white beans, arugula, or fresh spinach.
For this recipe, I recommend using your favorite pesto.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – only a tiny amount is needed to cook the pasta.
- Feta – Use traditional feta or vegan feta. If you are wondering about vegan feta, it tastes the same as its conventional counterpart!
- Substitution – mini mozzarella balls, fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, or freshly shaved parmesan cheese pair perfectly.
- Kalamata olives – Look for pitted kalamata olives at the store. You can also find sold-in “pieces.” I prefer the pieces to make this recipe as quick and easy as possible.
- Substitution – Use your favorite salty or black olives instead of kalamatas.
- Lemon –For a traditional Mediterranean and fresh pop of flavor, sprinkle the top with fresh lemon just before serving.
- Orzo – Look for orzo in the pasta section at your store. It is usually sold in a box.
- Pesto – You can use the traditional green basil pesto, sun-dried tomato pesto, or any pesto you choose.
- Red Onion – Brings the perfect zing with its sharp and tangy taste. You can always substitute with different onions, but nothing compares to a red one in a Mediterranean salad.
- Salt – Use a pinch of salt to taste. You can use your favorite salt, including table, sea, or kosher salt.
- Tomatoes – I find that a smaller-sized tomato, such as a cherry or grape, works best in this recipe. I like to use multicolored tomatoes for pops of color throughout the dish. Always look for fresh tomatoes with bright colors; they pack the most flavor!
- Step One: Orzo – Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add 1 cup of orzo and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pot of water and cook for 7 – 9 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.
- Step Two: Prep the Vegetables- Cut 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes in half. Dice one-half of a red onion. If using whole kalamata olives, cut them in half.
- Step Three: Combine Ingredients – Toss the cooked orzo, 1/2 cup pesto, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, red onion, and kalamata olives in a medium-sized bowl. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Top with additional feta cheese and tomatoes. Sprinkle with lemon for a fresh flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Place the salad in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to three days. Before serving, please give it a fresh toss and a sprinkle of lemon juice and basil.
Store extra pesto in an airtight container or mason jar in the refrigerator for up to one week. For longer storage, you can freeze pesto for up to three months. To freeze individual servings, place the pesto in an ice cube tray and freeze for one hour. Once the pesto has frozen, transfer the individual cubes to a labeled freezer bag along with the date. This makes it easy to grab a cube or two of pesto for quick and convenient use in your favorite recipes.
Yes, fresh basil tastes fantastic in this recipe. Other ingredients that also taste great include parsley, garbanzo beans, cannellini beans, toasted pine nuts, green onions, and English cucumbers.
In The Mood For Something Else?
Did you make this? Leave a rating and a comment. You can also take a picture and tag me on Facebook.
Mediterranean Orzo Pesto Salad
- 1 cup orzo
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 half red onion, diced
- ¼ cup chopped kalamata olives
- ½ cup pesto
- ¼ cup feta cheese/vegan feta cheese
- 1 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons basil, chopped
- 2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes
- Step One: Orzo –Bring two cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add orzo and olive oil to the pot of water and cook for 7 – 9 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.
- Step Two: Prep the Vegetables-Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Dice the red onion. If using whole kalamata olives, cut them in half.
- Step Three: Combine Ingredients –Toss the cooked orzo, pesto, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, red onion, and kalamata olives together in a medium-sized bowl. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Top with additional feta cheese and tomatoes. Sprinkle with fresh lemon.