A sweet, savory and full-flavored orzo salad for summer! This simple orzo pasta salad is loaded with all of summer’s best—tomatoes, watermelon and fresh basil. Add in some salty pecorino and a simple combo of olive oil and vinegar and lunch is served. 

Why This Recipe Works

We took one of our favorite summer salads—our Watermelon Tomato Salad—and turned it into a lunch-worthy salad. The addition of toasted al dente orzo makes this side dish a bit more hearty while still being light and fresh for summer. 

Feel free to use whatever pasta you like to have on hand, just keep in mind the smaller the pasta, the better. 

chunks of tomatoes and watermelon tossed with orzo pesto and basil in a large white bowl

Ingredient Notes


For this watermelon tomato salad recipe we prefer Black Diamond watermelons. They have a vibrant pink flesh and a dark green rind. They’re super sweet and labeled as “seedless watermelons,” which just means they have less seeds than traditional watermelons. 


You can use any variety of tomato for this salad. We like to use big, juicy red tomatoes because they blend in with the watermelon and create a striking salad. These types of tomatoes include vine-ripe, Better Boy or Big Beef varieties. However, feel free to use roma tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, or even cherry tomatoes. 

If you’ve got extra tomatoes on hand, try our Shepard’s Salad. It’s loaded with tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, shallot (or red onion), fresh mint and more. 

diced watermelon, vine-ripe tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, basil, dry orzo pasta, and chunk of pecorino cheese on a counter


We love Pecorino here—it’s dry and super salty which pairs wonderfully with watermelon! To get large thick strips, run a vegetable peeler down the side of the block of cheese. If you can’t find (or don’t like) Pecorino, you can also use Parmesan. 


The type of vinegar you use is important! We love the flavor of sherry vinegar and find it pairs beautifully with the watermelon and tomato. Even though it’s made with sherry, it’s MUCH more nuanced than any white or red wine vinegar. It adds bright tang while also adding depth thanks to its sweet caramel and toasty notes. 


Orzo is a tiny rice-shaped semolina pasta that’s perfect for salads and pilafs. We like to toast it briefly in the saucepan before cooking it in heavily salted water. Toasting the pasta gives it some color as well as toasty flavor. 

dry orzo pasta toasting in a small saucepan

Kosher salt and black pepper 

We’re keeping the seasonings simple, just good kosher salt (we like Morton) and cracked black pepper. If you’re using Diamond Crystal kosher salt, you’ll likely need more salt that listed in the recipe. 

test kitchen Tips

  • If you have extra-juicy tomatoes, consider briefly draining the cubed tomatoes in a colander for a few minutes to avoid watering down the vinaigrette. 
  • We recommend seeking out sherry vinegar but if you don’t have it or can’t find it, you can use a high-quality red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar. 
chunks of tomatoes and watermelon tossed with orzo pesto and basil in a large white bowl

More Pasta Salad Recipes to Try

Orzo Salad FAQs

Can this be made ahead?

We do not recommend making this ahead of time as the tomatoes and watermelon will start to weep a bit and water down the dressing. Additionally, we don’t recommend making this ahead and storing it in the refrigerator as the refrigeration will turn the tomatoes into a mealy mess.

Where should I store tomatoes?

Tomatoes should be stored on your counter at room temperature until you’re ready to use them. Once cut into, tomatoes should be refrigerated.

I can’t find Pecorino, what else can I use?

Pecorino is a super salty, dry cheese. You can replace it with shreds of Parmesan.

Watermelon Tomato Orzo Salad Recipe

5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Yield 8 cups (4 servings)
Category Salad, Salad/Side dish
Cuisine American


A summer orzo salad that can be served as a side or a light lunch.


  • 1 ½ cups dry orzo pasta
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry Vinegar
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 4 cups cubed watermelon
  • 3 cups cubed tomatoes (about 4 large tomatoes)
  • 16 large basil leaves, torn
  • ¾ cup shaved Pecorino cheese


  • Add orzo to a medium saucepan. Place saucepan over medium heat and toast orzo, tossing pan occasionally, until orzo is light golden brown and fragrant, 4–5 minutes.
  • Carefully add water to saucepan to cover orzo by an inch or so. Bring to a boil, then season heavily with salt.
  • Cook orzo until al dente according to package directions. Drain pasta then return to saucepan and toss with a glug of olive oil to keep pasta from sticking; set aside to cool.
  • In a large bowl whisk together 3 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  • Add cooked and cooled orzo, watermelon and tomatoes and toss to combine.
  • Stir in basil and pecorino. Season with additional vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve immediately.


Use a vegetable peeler to get large flat shaves of Pecorino.
Feel free to play around with the fresh herbs you add. Fresh parsley, mint or even oregano would be delicious.
To make this gluten-free: use gluten-free orzo (or any small shape of gluten-free pasta) or skip the pasta altogether.
1½ cups dry orzo = 3½ cups cooked orzo pasta.


Serving: 2cupsCalories: 368kcalCarbohydrates: 44gProtein: 13gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 14mgSodium: 697mgFiber: 4gSugar: 10g
Like this? Leave a comment below!I love hearing from you and I want to hear how it went with this recipe! Leave a comment and rating below, then share on social media @zestfulkitchen and #zestfulkitchen!
chunks of tomatoes and watermelon tossed with orzo pesto and basil in a large white bowl

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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