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Orzo Pesto Salad Recipe

This orzo pesto salad is the perfect summer salad. It’s easy to make and totally customizable. Something tells me we’ll be taking it to potlucks and picnics all summer long.

The base recipe will remind you of a mashup between a pesto pasta salad with orzo and a Caprese. Make my pesto alla Genovese or use a store-bought pesto if you don’t have the time.

The orzo pesto salad itself is packed with ripe, bursting tomatoes and tiny perlini mozzarella and topped with toasted pine nuts. Or make it your own way with any of the possible variations below.

a bowl of orzo pesto salad with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, and toasted pine nuts.

Tips and tricks for this recipe

What is orzo?

Orzo literally means “barley” in Italian. It is a small wheat pasta shaped like barley or rice. It is often used in soup recipes but also can be treated like Arborio in risotto. If you are unable to find orzo, any small pasta shape will work in this pasta salad recipe.

About fresh mozzarella

Perlini mozzarella are the smallest size of mozzarella balls, about a centimeter in diameter. They are supposedly the size of pearls, though I can’t imagine a necklace made out of pearls that size!

If you’re unable to find perlini, use the smallest mozzarella you can find. Chop it if you have to. But please use fresh mozzarella in this orzo pesto salad recipe.

How to make this orzo pesto salad recipe

There are not many components to this recipe, so the key is to use the best and freshest ingredients you can find in summer salads.

ingredients for this orzo pesto salad including orzo, pesto, mozzarella, tomatoes, and olives.

ProTip: You should almost always combine sauce and al dente pasta in the pot and cook them for a minute or two so the pasta takes up flavor from the sauce. With pesto, the pasta just needs to be warm. Run away from recipes that stir pesto into cold pasta or show a photo of sauce sitting pristinely on top of a pile of spaghetti.

To make this recipe, cook the orzo just until it is al dente, save a cup or so of pasta water, and drain the pasta. Return it immediately to the warm pot and mix in the pesto and pasta water to get your desired consistency. Then let the pesto-coated orzo cool to room temperature before adding the other ingredients.

bowl of warm orzo coated in pesto.

Variations

  • Add spinach or other greens or finely chopped basil leaves to the pasta salad.
  • Chop some artichoke hearts or steamed green vegetables like broccoli or asparagus into the salad.
  • Add cooked chicken to make this a chicken pesto salad.

FAQs about this orzo pesto salad recipe

How far ahead can I make this orzo pesto salad?

The simplest way to make this ahead is to make the pesto in advance. Pesto can be frozen for months. Fully made, the orzo pesto salad is best served within the first day, but it can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.

Related recipes

Check out other summer salad recipes like this peach burrata caprese or this watermelon panzanella.

Are you looking for fall and winter pasta salad recipes? Try this pumpkin couscous salad.

Do you love pasta as much as I do? Check out some of my favorite pasta recipes like this sausage ragù, cavatappi mac and cheese, or tuna pesto pasta.

Orzo Pesto Salad Recipe

5 from 1 vote
Category: Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Cooling time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 358kcal
This orzo pesto salad is the perfect summer side salad. It's easy to make and totally customizable. You'll be taking it to potlucks and picnics all summer long.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces (about 1⅓ cups) orzo
  • ¼ cup pesto plus more as desired
  • ½ cup perlini mozzarella
  • 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 10 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon salt plus more for salting the pasta water
  • teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of water, add salt, and cook the orzo according to the package directions until it is just al dente. Before draining, reserve about a cup of pasta water.
    8 ounces (about 1⅓ cups) orzo
  • Drain the orzo and return it immediately to the warm pasta pot. Add about ¼ cup of pesto the orzo and stir it until the pasta is evenly coated. If your pesto is thick, add some of the pasta water about a tablespoon at at time to thin it slightly.
    ¼ cup pesto
  • Transfer the orzo to a glass bowl and let cool to room temperature.
  • When cool, add the perlini mozzarella, chopped tomatoes, chopped olives, salt, and pepper, and toss gently to mix.
    ½ cup perlini mozzarella, 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large, 10 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced, ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • Garnish with toasted pine nuts and serve at room temperature.
    2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Notes

Variations
  • Add spinach or other greens or finely chopped basil leaves to the pasta salad.
  • Chop some artichoke hearts or steamed green vegetables like broccoli or asparagus into the salad.
  • Add cooked chicken to make this a chicken pesto salad.

Nutrition

Calories: 358kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 6mg | Sodium: 463mg | Potassium: 254mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 561IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 93mg | Iron: 1mg
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