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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
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.
- 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
- Cook the orzo according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water until the orzo is room temperature.
- Whisk the pesto and vinegar together in the base of a large bowl until smooth.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Although orzo looks like enlarged rice, it is in fact a type of pasta and typically wheat-based.
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!
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
- 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 toasted 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 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.
- 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!