Pesto Orzo Salad

GFGluten FreeNFNut FreeOFOil FreeVVegan
5 from 10 votes
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Hearty Pesto Orzo Salad is made with just a handful of ingredients, yet is bursting with fresh flavor. Ready in 25 minutes! Gluten-free, Oil-Free, and Nut-Free options. 

This Pesto Orzo Salad is made with tender orzo pasta, juicy cherry tomatoes, hearty chickpeas, and fresh herbs all tossed together in a dreamy, arugula pesto dressing. Get out your favorite serving bowl and prepare to dig into this delicious easy side or light dinner main.

Table of Contents
  1. Pasta Salad Meets Homemade Pesto
  2. What You Need for 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 work on the side

Pasta Salad Meets Homemade Pesto

If you didn’t know, pasta salads happen to be my jam. There are plenty on the blog – we’ve got a Buffalo Cauliflower Pasta Salad, Mediterranean Pasta Salad, Taco Pasta Salad and a Dill Pickle Pasta Salad. And while you might think that covers the bases, I realized we were missing a flavor I’m particularly fond of: pesto. 

Pesto is one of my favorite sauces to indulge in during the warmer Spring and Summer months. It’s packed with vibrant greens, buttery nuts, and fresh garlic, then blended into a smooth, creamy dressing that can be drizzled or spread on just about anything (orzo pasta salads included!). Bring this perfect side dish to any summer BBQ, potluck, or get together this year and you’re guaranteed to please!

What You Need for Pesto Orzo Salad

As with most cold pasta salads, this pesto orzo salad recipe is incredibly customizable. I’ll share with you my favorite add-ins and pesto to use, but feel free to switch things up to suit your crowd or personal taste buds. 

ingredients for pesto orzo salad laid out on a marble kitchen countertop
  • Pesto: I particularly love this orzo salad with my peppery Arugula Pesto, but it’s also delicious with my nut-free pesto, avocado pesto, or any store-bought pesto of your choice. 
  • Tomatoes: Depending on the size, you can use either halved or whole cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes. You can also use any chopped tomatoes of your choosing, but I will recommend juicy, sweet tomatoes for the best flavor. 
  • Chickpeas: I can’t resist sneaking a little protein into my pasta salads. It helps bulk them up and make them suitable for a main dish, if desired. I opted for canned chickpeas to make this recipe quick and easy, but feel free to use 1 3/4 cups of chickpeas cooked from dry. 
  • Fresh greens: Fresh basil leaves and arugula are absolutely key. They bring out the flavor in the pesto and round out the dish with a burst of freshness. Don’t skimp here!  
  • Vegan feta: This is optional but adds a salty, creaminess to the pasta salad that I truly love. Go for a store-bought pesto, or if desired, try my marinated tofu “feta” recipe.

How to Make Pesto Orzo Salad

side-by-side images of the making process of the salad 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 the orzo according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water until the orzo is room temperature. 
  2. Whisk the pesto and vinegar together in the base of a large bowl until smooth. 
  3. Add the room temperature orzo, tomatoes, and chickpeas and toss to combine. Add the basil, optional vegan feta cheese, pine nuts, and fresh arugula. Fold to combine, then season with salt to taste. 
  4. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Caitlin’s Cooking Tips

  • Cook the pasta until 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 instructions will provide instructions for cooking the pasta al dente, but if not reduce the cook 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 experienced toasted pine nuts, you’re in for a treat! They’re buttery, nutty, and the ultimate pop of flavor. The fastest way to do this is in a dry skillet on the stovetop. Add them over medium-low heat and cook until lightly golden brown and fragrant, a couple of minutes.
a zoomed in image of the salad

Serving Suggestions

The best part about this Orzo Pesto Pasta Salad is it only gets better with time. It’s the perfect meal prep for a quick weeknight meal, nourishing lunches, or a hearty side dish. And since it’s best served at room temperature or chilled, it’s the ideal plant-based meal to bring to picnics and BBQs 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 prepped, this pesto salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. For optimal preservation, store in a glass, airtight container or jar. 

Freezing and reheating is not recommended. 

Substitutions and Variations

  • Gluten-free option: Swap the wheat-based orzo pasta for a gluten-free orzo such as cassava orzo or corn and rice-based orzo pastas. You can also use any other gluten-free short cut pasta variety 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 be thicker, but still creamy and delicious. 
  • Use another protein: Replace the can of chickpeas with another plant-based protein of choice such as white beans, my Crispy Tofu or Baked Tempeh.

Recipe FAQs

Is orzo a rice or pasta?

Although orzo looks like enlarged rice, it is in fact a type of pasta and typically wheat-based.

Does orzo have egg in it?

Store-bought orzo pasta varieties are usually made without eggs and contain wheat, water, and salt. Fresh varieties, however, are often made with egg to give them extra moisture and flavor. When purchasing orzo in stores, always read the ingredients just in case!

What is orzo called in Italy?

The word orzo directly translates to “barley” in Italian, an ode to the fact that orzo looks similar to barley. In Italy, orzo is also called risoni or risi (big rice).

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

pesto orzo salad in bowl with wooden tongs

Pesto Orzo Salad

5 from 10 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 people
Hearty Pesto Orzo Salad is made with just a handful of ingredients, yet is bursting with fresh flavor. Ready in 25 minutes! Gluten-free, Oil-Free, and Nut-Free options.


  • 8 ounces dry orzo
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup Nut-Free Pesto or Arugula Pesto, or store-bought
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 10 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil chopped
  • 1/2 cup vegan feta (optional)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
  • 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 until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain the orzo and rinse with cold water, until the orzo itself comes to room temperature.
  • Make the Dressing: Whisk the pesto and vinegar together in the base of a large bowl until a smooth texture forms.
  • Mix: Add the orzo, tomatoes, and chickpeas to the bowl and mix until evenly combined. Add the basil, feta (optional), pine nuts, and arugula. Gently fold into the salad. Season with additional salt to taste, if necessary.
  • Serve: Serve immediately, or chill in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Recipe Notes

  • Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free orzo, or replace with 8 ounces (225 g) of your favorite gluten-free pasta
  • Oil-Free: Use my Avocado Pesto from this recipe instead!


Calories: 554kcalCarbohydrates: 69gProtein: 17gFat: 24gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 2514mgPotassium: 573mgFiber: 9gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1487IUVitamin C: 23mgCalcium: 152mgIron: 4mg
Keyword: pasta salad, pesto orzo salad, vegan orzo salad, vegan pasta salad, vegan pesto salad
Course: Salad
Method: Stovetop
Cuisine: American, Italian
Diet: Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian

About the Author

Hey there, I’m Caitlin! I make easy-to-follow, wholesome, and budget-friendly vegan recipes that are mostly gluten-free and refined sugar-free. I’m also an avid yogi, love the great outdoors, am chocolate-obsessed, and enjoy eating almond butter straight off of the spoon.

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  1. 5 stars
    Delicious!! I didn’t have basil but I did top with red pickled onions for some extra freshness. So easy too.

  2. Orzo is made from wheat pasta. How you have this labels GF IDK. I have noticed many of your recipes are labeled GF and use wheat pasta or crust with no suggestions for GF

    1. Traditional orzo is made from wheat but you can also buy gluten-free orzo, or use a different gluten-free pasta instead. Gluten-free substitutions are always listed in the recipe notes!

  3. 5 stars
    This recipe is SO SO SO good! I modified it slightly. I used a different vegan pesto recipe that’s oil free, and mixed it with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil instead of red wine vinegar (the pesto recipe has a lot of brown rice vinegar, so I wanted to make sure it didn’t come out too vinegar-y). I skipped the chickpeas and vegan feta as well. This was SO good and fresh for this HOT summer! Will definitely make again!

  4. 5 stars
    I brought this to a potluck tonight, and it was a hit! I used the Trader Joe’s vegan pesto in place of making it from scratch, and it worked great.

  5. 5 stars
    Wow.. this is so good! Incredibly flavourful. The only thing I left out was pine nuts.. but only because I forgot to buy some. This recipe is a keeper!

  6. 5 stars
    So good! All of the Let’s Do Lunch series recipes I’ve tried so far have been fantastic! And so helpful because I always struggle with finding quick and varied lunchtime recipes. Thanks so much!

  7. 5 stars
    I am officially obsessed with this dish! I made a few substitutions – used lemon zest and juice and sprinkled Parmesan instead of feta. So so tasty!

  8. 5 stars
    My husband made this for dinner and it’s DELICIOUS!! Best orzo salad ever. We added Kalamato olives to it. Thanks Caitlin for another delicious recipe!!