Packed with fresh ingredients like cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and basil, this Pesto Orzo Pasta Salad is perfect for a picnic or potluck! And with the added crunch of pecans and the tangy bite of feta cheese. Every bite is sure to be a popular spring and summer side dish!
Tired of the same old pasta salad at your summer picnics and BBQs? Try something new and exciting with this delicious pesto orzo pasta salad! This dish is packed with vibrant and fresh ingredients that come together to create a unique and flavorful taste.
The star of the show is a homemade pesto sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. It's a perfect match for the tender orzo pasta, which is cooled down and tossed with a medley of fresh veggies like cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and roasted red peppers. Add in the nutty crunch of pecans and the tangy bite of feta cheese, and you'll quickly find that this easy pasta salad has got it all!
Pesto pasta salad is a perfect option for picnics, potlucks, or a BBQ because. It is so easy to transport and can be made ahead of time. The salad can be chilled in the fridge for a few hours before serving. This allows the flavors to meld together and intensify. Plus, the bright colors and fresh flavors make for a memorable dish that everyone will enjoy!
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- This easy summer or spring pasta salad is bursting with flavor from the homemade pesto sauce, fresh veggies, and tangy feta cheese, making it a true taste sensation.
- The combination of tender orzo pasta and crunchy pecans creates a great texture that makes it even more satisfying.
- It's incredibly easy to make, perfect for when you need a quick and tasty meal. It is a great potluck dish that will impress your friends and family.
- Perfect for warm weather gatherings, as it can be made ahead of time and served chilled.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Fresh Basil - The star ingredient in the pesto sauce, which gives the dish its distinct and delicious herby fresh flavor.
- Pecans - Add a nutty crunch to the salad, complementing the tender orzo pasta and enhancing the overall texture of the dish.
- Parmesan Cheese - Adds a sharp and salty flavor to the pesto sauce, which pairs perfectly with the other ingredients in the salad.
- Cherry Tomatoes - The juicy and sweet cherry tomatoes add a burst of naturally sweet flavor and color to the salad.
- Black Olives - Provides a salty and savory flavor to the salad, balancing out the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes and the tanginess of the feta cheese.
- English Cucumber - The refreshing crunch and mild flavor of the cucumber add balance to the dish while also providing a refreshing and hydrating texture.
- Roasted Red Pepper - Adds a smoky and sweet flavor to the salad.
- Feta Cheese - The tangy and salty flavor of the feta cheese adds a delicious bite to the salad while also providing a creamy and rich texture throughout.
- Garlic - Adds a pungent and savory flavor to the pesto sauce, which pairs well with the sharp ingredients in the pesto.
- Olive Oil - Gives a rich and flavorful base for the other ingredients to hold onto while also helping the sauce stick to the pasta.
- Salt, Pepper, & Italian Seasoning - These spices add depth and complexity to the dish, enhancing the flavor of the other ingredients.
- Lemon Juice - Adds brightness to the salad, balancing out the richness of the pesto sauce.
How To Make Pesto Pasta Salad with Orzo
Cook the orzo pasta: Each box of orzo pasta may have slightly different cooking instructions, but typically it should be boiled in a large pot of salted water for 10-12 minutes until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse it with cold water to cool it down. Set aside.
Prepare the pesto sauce: In a food processor or blender, add basil leaves, pecans, parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Blend until you get the desired consistency.
Assemble the salad: Add the pesto sauce to the orzo pasta and mix it together. Next, add in the chopped cucumber, halved tomatoes, feta cheese, roasted red peppers, and sliced olives. Mix together.
Chill and serve: Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the pasta salad chill in the fridge for at least one hour to develop the flavors. Once chilled, serve cold and enjoy!
- To make sure the pasta doesn't stick together, be sure to rinse it thoroughly with cold water after cooking and then drain it well. This will help keep the pasta fluffy and tender.
- When making the pesto sauce, make sure to blend the ingredients until you achieve a smooth and creamy consistency. This will ensure that the sauce coats the pasta evenly and adds the perfect flavor to every bite.
- For added crunch and texture, toast the pecans in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant. This will give the salad an extra layer of nuttiness and crunch.
- To make the dish ahead of time, you can prepare the pasta and pesto sauce separately and then mix them together right before serving.
- For a vegan version of this dish, omit the Parmesan cheese and feta cheese and replace them with nutritional yeast and a sprinkle of salt. You can also use vegan pesto or make your own by substituting the cheese with cashews or nutritional yeast.
- If you're not a fan of pecans, replace them with pine nuts or walnuts for a different nutty flavor. Or, add sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds for an extra crunch.
- For a spicy twist, add a pinch of red pepper flakes to the pesto sauce or chop up a jalapeno pepper and add it to the salad.
- To make the dish more protein-packed, add grilled chicken or shrimp to the salad. Or add chickpeas or white beans for a vegetarian protein source.
- Replace the orzo pasta with gluten-free pasta, like quinoa pasta or rice noodles, for a gluten-free option.
Storing: Transfer leftovers into an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. Make sure to cover the container tightly to prevent any air from getting in and drying out the pasta. When ready to serve, give the salad a good stir and add a little extra olive oil if it seems dry.
Freezing: While you can freeze pesto sauce. I do not recommended freezing this salad because the texture of the veggies and pasta may become mushy when defrosted. Therefore, freezing is not recommended.
Yes, it's important to rinse the pasta after cooking in order to remove any excess starch. This helps prevent the sauce from sticking to the pasta and also keeps it light and fluffy.
Orzo pasta is a type of small, rice-shaped pasta made from semolina flour and water. It has a slightly nutty flavor and can be used in both hot and cold dishes.
More Easy Side Dish Recipes
- Authentic Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
- Best Potato Salad Recipe
- Twice Baked Potatoes
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Pesto Orzo Pasta Salad
- 16 oz orzo pasta
- ¾ cup fresh basil
- ⅓ cup pecans
- ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- ⅓ cup black olives
- 1 English cucumber chopped
- ⅓ cup sun-dried tomatoes chopped
- ½ cup feta cheese
- 1 clove garlic
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp Italian seasoning
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Cook the orzo pasta according to the package. Once the pasta is cooked to your desired doneness, drain and rinse the pasta with cold water. Set aside.
- Add basil leaves, pecans, parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice to a food processor. Blend until you get the desired consistency.
- Add the pesto sauce to the orzo pasta and mix it together. Next, add in the chopped cucumber, halved tomatoes, feta cheese, roasted red peppers, and sliced olives. Mix together. Chill for at least 1 hour, serve, and enjoy!
*All nutrition information provided is automatically calculated and is an estimate and will vary based on ingredients, brands, and changes in cooking methods listed in the recipe. If you need exact numbers on your ingredients, I would recommend calculating them with your prefered nutrition calculator.