We make this flavorful Orzo Pesto Salad often. It comes together in about 15 minutes and has a short list of ingredients. In other words, you can make a delicious homemade dinner even when you're very short on time. And, extras can be set aside for lunch the next day.
This recipe is quite simple—but it always hits the spot. Fresh tomatoes, baby spinach, frozen peas, and red onion add colorful veggie goodness. Then, orzo pasta, basil pesto, and mozzarella cheese round out this satisfying and delicious dish. Enjoy it as a main or side salad, the choice is yours!
Why you'll love this recipe
- 15 minutes to make: By the time the orzo pasta is cooked, you'll have all the other ingredients prepped and ready to assemble. It's perfect for rushed weeknight dinners when you're short on time.
- Only 10 ingredients (including salt & pepper!): This recipe uses easy to find ingredients, like orzo pasta, baby spinach, tomatoes, and bocconcini cheese.
- Make ahead friendly: This orzo pesto salad keeps well in the fridge for easy weekday lunches on the go. It's also a great make-ahead dish for entertaining.
Ingredients (and substitutes)
- Pesto: It's one of the key ingredients in this recipe, so use a store-bought pesto you love! Or, make your own at home. (We're big fans of pesto—check out our cookbook for two easy and delicious homemade pesto recipes.)
- Lemon Juice: Acidity is key to a delicious, bright, and balanced salad dressing. This recipe uses lemon juice, mixed in with pesto, for a fresh sauce that coats each bit of orzo. Use freshly squeezed lemon juice for the best flavor.
- Bocconcini: We love using mini bocconcini for this salad. But, you can substitute a larger ball of mozzarella—just tear it into bite-sized pieces before adding.
- Spinach: Baby spinach is a quick way to add more veggies, and it already comes pre-washed. Since orzo is small, we chop the spinach first so it's nicer to eat together.
- Peas: Frozen peas are another quick trick to adding extra veggies to your meal. They're inexpensive, are a source of protein, and can be added to the boiling pasta water right at the end of cooking.
How to make (step-by-step photos)
This easy Pesto Orzo Salad comes together in 15 minutes! Here's how to make this recipe:
Watch how easy it is to make this yummy Orzo salad.
Find the recipe card below for the complete recipe, including all ingredients and instructions.
- Cook orzo like a pro: Orzo should be cooked in a big pot of salted water, stirring it occasionally so it doesn't stick. For this recipe, you want to cook the orzo just slightly past al dente, because it won't be getting adding to a pan of hot sauce to finish cooking. Finally, the step of rinsing the orzo under cool water will stop the cooking process and prevent the pasta from sticking together.
- Add more protein, if you'd like: Feel free to add more protein to this salad if you need. Cannellini beans, navy beans, chickpeas, cubed smoked tofu, or more frozen green peas are all delicious plant-based options.
- Freeze extra pesto: If you have too much pesto on hand, transfer it to a freezer-safe glass container or freeze in ice cube trays for small portions.
- Make this recipe for meal prep: Extra orzo pesto salad makes delicious meal prepped lunches or dinners. Store in airtight containers for up to 4 days.
Want more meal-prep friendly salad recipes? Check out our Tortellini Salad with Pesto, Halloumi Couscous Salad with Lemon, Mediterranean Black Lentil Salad with Feta, and Vegetarian Lentil Nicoise Salad recipes.
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Easy Orzo Pesto Salad
- 1½ cups dried orzo
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup pesto
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Black pepper, to taste
- 1 (7 oz/200g) container mini bocconcini, drained (or 1 cup bite-sized pieces, see note 1)
- 2 cups baby spinach, chopped
- 1¾ cups cherry tomatoes, halved (1 (10 oz/283g) container)
- ⅔ cup finely diced red onion
- Cook orzo and peas: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add orzo and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Then, add the frozen peas to the pot of orzo and cook for 1 minute longer. Drain and rinse under cold water for 30 seconds.
- Prep pesto dressing: Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together pesto and lemon juice until smooth.
- Combine: Add the drained orzo and peas to the pesto dressing. Toss until well coated. Season with salt, and pepper (to taste). Add in the bocconcini, spinach, tomatoes, and onion. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
- Bocconcini: We use mini bocconcini and tear each ball in half, so there's more pieces of cheese scattered throughout the salad. But, you could keep them whole if you prefer. You can substitute larger ball(s) of bocconcini instead of mini...just tear them into bite sized pieces before using. You'll want 1 cup of cheese for this recipe. Measure after draining from the liquid.
- Storage tips: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
- Yield: Makes 11 cups. Nutritional estimate assumes 5 servings (as a main).