Orzo Pesto Salad

Orzo Pesto Salad

This isn’t scientific, but I think orzo might be the most fun pasta to eat. I’ll hav to ask my pasta-loving 4 year old who doesn’t understand when we say pasta isn’t for every meal. But with this orzo pesto salad, we’ll all be wanting pasta more often this summer.

Orzo Pesto Salad

Orzo Pesto Salad

I didn’t like pesto growing up. I don’t know what it was – maybe we just didn’t have it enough, but now my husband and I (and, yes, the pasta-loving kiddo) adore pesto. It’s why we have 4 basil plants in our raised cedar beds in the garden – so I can make and freeze it for fall and winter when the veggie options feel redundant and bland.

Orzo Pesto Salad

Secrets to Good Pesto?

If you’re making homemade pesto, there are 3 very important things to keep in mind.

  1. Good Olive oil. Olive oil is half of pesto, so it should taste good. If you haven’t thought about the flavor of olive oil, then you probably haven’t had great olive oil. A few things to note. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is best. Good olive should be in a dark bottle and should be kept in a cool dark place. My favorite olive oils come from northern California. My go to brands are Séka Hills (available locally and online), Lucini, Cobram Estate, and California ranch Olive Oil.
  2. Sugar. My husband studied abroad in Italy in college (we met through a mutual friend on the trip!). There he learned that a pinch of sugar makes all tomato and pesto sauces delicious. It’s like the umami or something. It cuts bitterness and pulls it all together beautifully. Add the pinch of sugar at the end.
  3. Basil Oxidizes Quickly. So, basil turns brown very quickly once cut (or processed in a food processor). Can I just tell you that it happens and it doesn’t affect the flavor. BUT you can either blanche the basil quickly or add lemon juice. Both are great options, but just a little extra step.
Orzo Pesto Salad

Orzo Pesto Salad Modifications

This recipe is heavenly as printed, but you can certainly modify as needed or desired.

You don’t have to use orzo, obviously. For a pasta salad, a bite-size pasta is best. Thing rotini, farfalle (bowtie), penne, macaroni (elbow pasta), shells, etc.

If you plan to make this as a side dish or a main course, you can use spaghetti, fettuccini, capellini, or any pasta that sounds good!

The mozzarella used in this recipe are small – the size of cherry tomatoes. They’re called “cigliene.” You could certain use another size or shape and cut up as desired. You could also do a burrata or goat cheese.

Cherry tomatoes? I’m a big fan of cherry tomatoes and this point and the acidity of fresh tomatoes (fresh summer tomatoes, I should specify) is delicious with the pesto. My son and husband aren’t fans as much as I am, however, so you can omit them as desired.

Pesto Recipe without Pine Nuts

This pesto recipe uses pistachios. I’ve used pine nuts, walnuts, and pecans before – whatever you like or have on hand is fine!

more Pasta Salad Recipes

Orzo Pesto Salad
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote


Combine the delicious freshness of homemade pesto with mozzarella and pasta for a delectable treat in this orzo pesto salad. Great for a barbecue, a hot weather dinner, or the perfect side dish.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Chilling Time30 minutes
Course: American, Salad, Salad/ Side Dish
Cuisine: American, New American
Keyword: bbq, pasta, potluck, salad, vegetarian
Servings: 4
Calories: 560kcal
Author: Luci Petlack


  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves loosely packed
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 1 garlic clove chopped
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper plus more to taste
  • 10 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup roasted shelled pistachios
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 ½ cups cooked orzo pasta about 4 ounces dry pasta
  • 10 to 12 cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1 scallion green and white portion finely chopped
  • 4 ounces small mozzarella balls halved (called ciliegine)
  • Chopped pistachios for garnish
  • Small basil leaves for garnish


  • Add the basil leaves, Parmesan, garlic, salt, and pepper to a small food processor or single-serve blender. Pulse to roughly chop the ingredients. Add 6 tablespoons of the olive oil and continue to pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped.
  • Add the pistachios and pulse again to roughly chop the nuts. Keep visible pieces of pistachios in the pesto for more texture in the pasta salad. Pour in the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil as well as a hefty pinch of sugar and blend just until the oil is incorporated.
  • Place the pasta in a medium bowl and stir in the tomatoes, scallion, and mozzarella balls. Pour in the pesto and stir well. Add more salt and pepper to taste if desired. Serve right away or chill 30 to 60 minutes before serving. Top with more chopped pistachios and basil leaves for garnish before serving.


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Calories: 560kcal | Carbohydrates: 26g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 46g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 28g | Cholesterol: 13mg | Sodium: 388mg | Potassium: 248mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 253IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 162mg | Iron: 2mg

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