Turn to this Orzo Salad recipe when you’re looking for an easy, versatile side dish that pairs well with just about anything. Turn it into a quick weeknight meal by topping it with chicken skewers, pan-seared salmon or even sliced steak. Not only it is versatile, it’s also forgiving. Switch up the veggies you add or use whatever fresh herbs you already have on hand.
Orzo Salad Ingredients
Orzo pasta: you can find orzo in the dry pasta section of your grocery store. Look for it sold in short, stout boxes.
Asparagus: tender asparagus is the perfect vegetable for this cheesy orzo salad. If asparagus is out of season or you don’t like it, you can substitute frozen green peas, small broccoli florets or green beans.
Parmesan cheese: for the best flavor and meltability, use freshly grated parmesan cheese from the specialty cheese section of the grocery store. The only ingredient should be parmigiano reggiano (no anti-caking agents). If your store is out of grated Parmesan either grab a block and grate it yourself or use shredded Parmesan (again no added ingredients is key to achieving the right texture).
Herbs: we like to use a combination of basil and fresh dill for this orzo salad. Feel free to use parsley, chives and/or cilantro instead of the basil or dill.
Olive oil & butter: we use both olive oil and butter to achieve the best of both worlds. Oil coats each piece of orzo nicely while butter adds flavor.
Lemon: use both lemon zest and lemon juice for adequate flavor and brightness. A microplane makes easy work of zesting citrus juice, this one if our favorite.
Garlic: fresh is always best when it comes to garlic. You’ll need one medium garlic clove for this recipe. Grating it on a microplane gives it a more potent flavor.
Red pepper flakes: for just a touch of heat, add a dash of red pepper flakes. If you aren’t into the spice, you can also use black pepper.
How to Make Orzo Salad
- Cook the orzo in boiling salted water until al dente.
- Add the asparagus to the boiling water and pasta in the last 2 minutes of the cooking time.
- Meanwhile, make the herby sauce by combining the Parmesan, herbs, oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper flakes.
- Drain the pasta and asparagus.
- Add the pasta and asparagus to now-empty, dry pot.
- Stir in the sauce and cook just until everything is combined and the cheese is melted.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper flakes.
Substitutions and Variations
- Make a Mediterranean Orzo Pasta Salad by swapping the dill out for fresh oregano (just a tablespoon of fresh oregano) and adding olives, fresh cherry tomatoes and diced feta instead of Parmesan.
- Turn this side dish into a full meal by adding diced for shredded cooked chicken.
- Add more veggies and make a Rainbow orzo salad with shredded carrots and diced bell peppers.
- If you’ve got extra time, toast the dry orzo pasta in a skillet or pot before adding it to boiling water and cooking it. This simple step will give the dish more depth of flavor.
- Once your water comes to a boil, season it really well with kosher salt. At least a couple teaspoons, if not a tablespoon.
- To make this even cheesier, add large shreds of Parmesan cheese to the salad right before serving.
What to Serve with Orzo Salad
Keep dinner simple and serve this orzo salad with Pan-Seared Salmon, Broiled Salmon, steak (we like Top Sirloin), Smash Burgers, or Pan-Seared Chicken Breast.
Since this Orzo Salad has an Italian flare, pair it with our Italian Steak Sandwich.
Or top each serving of orzo pasta salad with a few juicy and tender Chicken Meatballs!
Celebrate the versatility of fresh herbs by pairing this orzo salad recipe with Chimichurri Chicken or Pesto Salmon.
Make Ahead, Leftovers & Storage
This orzo pasta salad is best enjoyed fresh, right after cooking, though it can be made up to 1 day in advance.
Whether you have leftovers or make this ahead of time, store this salad in a glass airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Gently reheat in the microwave in 30-second increments until warmed through and soft.
It’s important to cook orzo in heavily salted water and just until it’s al dente. You want it to still have a slight bite so it can hold up to other ingredients in the salad.
Here’s how to cook orzo for a salad:
– Fill a saucepan with water.
– Bring it to a boil over high heat.
– Add a couple teaspoons of kosher salt then add the orzo and cook until al dente according to package directions.
– Drain and use as directed in the recipe.
We are huge fans of this Watermelon Tomato Orzo Salad. Try it once and it’ll be on your menu all summer long!
Yes, you can make pasta salad the night before. Let the pasta salad cool completely before transferring it to a glass container with a tight-fitting lid. Store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Right before serving, rewarm it over low heat on the stovetop or in the microwave.
More Pasta Salad Recipes
- We make this Watermelon Tomato Orzo Salad constantly during the summer. It’s easy, unique, and absolutely delicious.
- Make our Greek Orzo Pasta Salad that’s loaded with saltiness thanks to olives and feta.
- Our Dill Pickle Pasta Salad is a fan-favorite. It’s light yet creamy and features small chunks of Cheddar cheese and crunchy bites of cucumber.
- Try our Healthy Mediterranean Pasta Salad made with lentil pasta, sundried tomatoes and loads of veggies.
Greek Orzo Pasta Salad
Watermelon Tomato Orzo Salad Recipe
Orzo Salad Recipe
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup (6 oz.) dry orzo pasta
- 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch thick slices
- ¾ cup finely grated Parmesan + more for serving
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil; season generously with salt then add 1 cup orzo and cook until al dente according to package directions. Add 1 pound sliced asparagus in last two minutes of cooking.
- Drain orzo and asparagus. Return pot to stove, not over heat, and allow to dry (or wipe out).
- Whisk together ¾ cup Parmesan, ¼ cup chopped basil, ¼ cup chopped dill, 3 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 grated clove garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes in a medium bowl.
- Add orzo and asparagus back to now empty pot. Place over medium-low heat and stir in 2 tablespoons butter, continue stirring until butter is melted. Off heat, add Parmesan-herb mixture and gently stir until completely combined and cheese has melted.
- Season with additional salt and pepper flakes to taste and serve immediately.