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This pesto orzo pasta salad is made with my creamy basil pesto vinaigrette dressing, cherry tomatoes, arugula, bocconcini cheese, and balsamic glaze! Ready in under 30 minutes, it’s an easy side salad to make, pairing perfectly with summer dinners.

Pesto orzo pasta salad in a wood salad bowl.

Instead of using a store-bought pesto for this orzo salad, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to use my pesto vinaigrette dressing! It’s a little thinner than traditional pesto, with the addition of lemon juice and red wine vinegar to add some extra tang and acidity 🙂

This is one of those quick recipes that is good for serving a crowd – it works well for a summer dinner party, a make-ahead BBQ side dish, packed for a picnic, or even as leftovers for lunch the next day.

Want more dietitian-designed orzo salads? You may also love my popular lemon orzo salad with shrimp or my warm mediterranean orzo pasta salad!

A note on key ingredients + substitutions:

Recipe ingredients in small bowls.
  1. Mini bocconcini: these tiny balls of mozzarella cheese are perfect for pasta salads! I like to buy the “mini” or “cocktail” versions (as indicated on the packaging). Cutting them in half makes them even more bite-sized and well-distributed throughout this salad.
  2. Parmesan: for the best flavour, I highly recommend using freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.
  3. Cherry tomatoes: I always recommend purchasing vine-ripened or locally-grown cherry tomatoes. These will have the absolute best flavour – they’re so sweet and juicy!
  4. Orzo: while this is meant to be an orzo salad, you may of course swap the orzo with another small pasta shape. For a gluten-free recipe, be sure to use a certified gluten-free pasta.
  5. Hemp hearts: I personally enjoy making the pesto vinaigrette with hemp hearts, but you are welcome to use another nut or seed. Pine nuts are a traditional (albeit more expensive) choice for pesto, but this also works well with walnuts, pistachios, or pumpkin seeds!

Please note that these pictures are meant to provide a helpful visual overview of the recipe. Full ingredient measurements and detailed instructions are located in the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post!

Visual guide: how to make pesto orzo salad

Orzo cooked in a pot.

STEP 1: Cook orzo according to package directions. Typically, it will only need about 8 minutes!

Pesto vinaigrette ingredients in a food processor.

STEP 2: Meanwhile, add all of the pesto vinaigrette ingredients to a food processor or blender.

Pesto vinaigrette blended in a food processor.

STEP 3: Blend until smooth, adjusting seasonings to taste.

Pesto orzo salad ingredients in a large bowl.

STEP 4: Add baby arugula, cooked orzo, halved cherry tomatoes and bocconcini balls to a large salad bowl. Pour pesto vinaigrette overtop.

Tomato orzo salad tossed with pesto vinaigrette dressing.

STEP 5: Toss salad with pesto vinaigrette until the ingredients are well-coated. Finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze and serve 🙂

More summer salad recipes

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Get the Recipe: Pesto Orzo Salad

This orzo pasta salad is made with my creamy basil pesto vinaigrette dressing, cherry tomatoes, arugula, bocconcini cheese, and balsamic glaze! It's a quick and easy side salad to make, pairing perfectly with summer dinners.
Pesto orzo pasta salad in a wood salad bowl.
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup orzo, dry
  • 4 cups baby arugula
  • 12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved (340 grams; vine-ripened or local for best flavour)
  • Approx. 6 ounces bocconcini balls, drained + halved (180 grams)
  • Balsamic glaze, to drizzle
  • Salt + pepper, to taste

Pesto vinaigrette dressing:

  • 1 ounce fresh basil (1 standard clamshell)
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup hemp hearts (or pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, etc.)
  • 1/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 a lemon, juice only
  • Salt + pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • Bring a pot of water to boil and cook orzo for 8 minutes. Drain cooked orzo into a sieve and rinse with cold water – this prevents the orzo from sticking together and brings it to a cooler temperature.
  • Meanwhile, make the pesto vinaigrette by adding all dressing ingredients into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, adjusting seasonings to taste.
  • Add baby arugula, cooked orzo, halved cherry tomatoes and bocconcini balls to a large salad bowl. Pour pesto vinaigrette overtop, using as much as desired.
  • Toss to combine well, seasoning with additional salt and pepper as needed. Finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. You can serve immediately or enjoy chilled!

Notes

*SERVINGS: Recipe as written makes approximately 6-8 servings as a side salad. Nutrition facts are calculated based on 6 servings.
*SERVE WITH: This salad tastes wonderful with chicken, salmon, or shrimp. It also works well as part of a larger dinner party or BBQ menu.
*LEFTOVERS: You may store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for about 3 days. It’s perfect for a packed lunch!
*INGREDIENT NOTES:
  • Bocconcini are small balls of mozzarella cheese. I like to buy the “mini” or “cocktail” versions (as indicated on the packaging).
  • While this is meant to be an orzo salad, you may of course swap the orzo with another small pasta shape. For a gluten-free recipe, be sure to use a certified gluten-free pasta.
Calories: 411kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 14mg | Sodium: 122mg | Potassium: 254mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 930IU | Vitamin C: 16mg | Calcium: 222mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition

As a dietitian, I create recipes with whole food ingredients that provide the nutrients needed for optimal health. My nutrition philosophy does not focus on numbers; however, I understand that this information can be helpful.

Do note that the nutrition info provided is an estimate and I cannot guarantee correctness of the displayed values. These numbers will differ depending on brands used, recipe modifications, and amount eaten. If you require specific nutrition information due to medical reasons, please consult with your dietitian or physician.

Did you make this recipe?

Let me know by leaving a recipe rating below, or by tagging @walderwellness on Instagram. I love seeing your beautiful creations!

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