This easy orzo pesto salad recipe is packed with fresh veggies, mozzarella, and tossed in homemade nut-free basil pesto. The perfect healthy dinner, lunch, or side dish for a summer cookout!
The best caprese pesto orzo salad
You have to try this easy orzo pesto pasta salad recipe. It is perfect for summer barbecues and cookouts! Plus, it goes well with many delicious dishes like these: grilled peach salads, pasta salads, grilled burgers, veggie burgers, and berry cobblers.
I am excited to share this delicious, fresh, healthy orzo pesto salad with you! It’s bright, refreshing, and packed with flavor.
The cooked orzo is tossed in a homemade pesto made without pine nuts and is topped with cucumber, bell pepper, sweet cherry tomatoes, and mini mozzarella balls. However, you can also use store-bought pesto if you want. This recipe is so customizable and easy.
This caprese orzo salad recipe is the perfect side dish, meal prep lunch, or weeknight dinner. It’s healthy, with gluten-free and dairy-free options. Everyone will love it, even kids!
Why you’ll love this healthy recipe
- Orzo pesto salad is fresh, simple, and healthy.
- You can use homemade or store-bought pesto.
- This recipe is ready in under 10 minutes.
- Healthy dinner, lunch, or side dish.
- Tossed in a homemade nut-free pesto that takes 5 minutes to make.
- Make ahead of time for a party or cookout.
- It can be made gluten-free and dairy free.
- Packed with fresh and crunchy summer vegetables.
- Add grilled chicken, shrimp, or salmon to make this recipe a full meal.
- Try this tuna salad or this tuna pesto pasta next!
Ingredients and substitutions
This caprese orzo pesto salad is tossed in a bright and flavorful basil pesto and is served with chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell pepper. Here is a list of ingredients so you are prepared:
- Orzo: The main ingredient! Orzo is short-cut pasta that is shaped like a large grain of rice. It’s super delicious and is perfect for pasta salads. You can also use Banza chickpea orzo or gluten-free orzo.
- Cucumber: For a fresh crunch. I love adding cucumber to my orzo salads because they are super refreshing. You can use English cucumbers or Persian cucumbers.
- Cherry Tomatoes: For a sweet, juicy pop of flavor. Feel free to use grape tomatoes instead.
- Bell Pepper: For a cool and sweet refreshing crunch. I used yellow bell pepper, but feel free to substitute it with a red or orange one. I don’t recommend using green bell pepper since they can be bitter.
- Mini Pearl Mozzarella Balls: This adds the best creamy note to this fresh and healthy orzo salad. I love mozzarella cheese, especially in the summer! To make this recipe dairy-free, use plant-based mozzarella.
- Pesto: You can use homemade or store-bought pesto for this orzo salad recipe! I left a recipe below for homemade pesto.
Kitchen tools required
Here is a list of kitchen utensils for making this easy basil pesto orzo salad.
- Mixing Bowl
- Cooking Pot
- Pasta Strainer
- Measuring Tools: 1/2 cup and 1 cup.
How to make orzo pesto pasta salad
This easy orzo pesto salad comes together in three steps in under 10 minutes. You’ll start by cooking the orzo, then you’ll prepare the basil pesto, and finally, you’ll toss everything together. Here are step-by-step directions:
First, boil a large pot of salted water and add orzo. Cook al-dente according to the package instructions. I like to reduce the cooking time by 1 – 2 minutes. Then, strain and run under cold water to stop it from cooking further. Set to the side.
Then, add ½ – ⅔ cups of pesto. I used this homemade recipe, but you can use store-bought too.
Finally, toss the cooked orzo, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell pepper, and mini pearl mozzarella balls in a large bowl. Drizzle the pesto over the caprese orzo salad, toss to coat, and enjoy!
Expert orzo salad tips:
- Cook the orzo al-dente. The orzo will continue to cook after you remove it from the heat and strain it. Cooking it al dente keeps the orzo tender after it cools. No one wants a mushy, overcooked orzo salad.
- Let the orzo cool before you add the pesto and veggies. If you toss hot orzo with the fresh cucumber, tomatoes, and bell pepper, they’ll get soft and wilt. I recommend draining the cooked orzo and running it under cold water to cool it. Make sure to dry it off before adding the pesto.
- Make it gluten-free. You can easily make this orzo salad gluten-free by using gluten-free orzo or Banza (chickpea orzo).
- Add protein. To make this a full meal, feel free to add grilled chicken, salmon, shrimp, or steak to the salad.
- Make it ahead of time. You can make this pesto orzo salad recipe up to one day in advance if you plan on serving it at a party or grill out. I always save a little pesto to the side and toss it with the salad right before serving for maximum freshness.
What to serve with orzo salad
This pesto orzo salad recipe is a perfect healthy side dish for summer grilling and cookouts. Pair it with other summer sides like strawberry salad or cornbread. If you need a main dish, try making one of these recipes:
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I make it dairy free?
To make this orzo salad dairy-free, substitute the mini mozzarella balls with your favorite dairy-free alternative, or leave them off.
Is orzo gluten-free?
Orzo is not typically gluten-free. If you are gluten-free, I recommend substituting the orzo with Banza rice or with this grain-free cassava orzo. It tastes and looks like orzo but is 100% gluten-free.
What are the best orzo substitutes?
The best pasta substitute for orzo is ditalini or small elbow macaroni. You can also use Arborio rice, an Italian short-grain rice.
Can I use store-bought pesto?
I love making homemade pesto because it is healthier and tastes fresher. However, if needed, you can certainly use 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup of store-bought pesto.
Is this recipe healthy?
Yes, this pesto orzo salad is certainly healthy. Firstly, it is packed with vegetables. Secondly, we use homemade, nut-free pesto made from 6 simple ingredients. Thirdly, it is balanced with carbs, fiber, protein, and healthy fat.
How long does it keep?
Pesto orzo salad keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Can you freeze orzo?
You can freeze cooked orzo for up to 3 months. Reheat by defrosting in the refrigerator overnight or in the microwave (covered by a damp paper towel).
How to store leftovers:
Store leftovers in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
If you love this salad recipe, try these next!
- Strawberry Goat Cheese Salad
- Kale Crunch Salad
- Greek Spinach Salad
- Broccolini Salad
- Tuna Salad (no mayo)
- Tuna Pesto Pasta
Did you make this recipe?
If you make this recipe, be sure to comment and rate it down below. Also, don’t forget to tag me @healthfulblondie on Instagram and use the hashtag #healthfulblondie so I can see your delicious creation and share it with my followers!
Orzo Pesto Salad Recipe
- ½ – ⅔ cups this basil pesto recipe, or store-bought
- 1 ½ cups uncooked orzo
- 1 medium English cucumber, cut into quarter moons
- 2 cups sweet cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 cup mini pearl mozzarella balls, drained
- Make Orzo: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add orzo. Cook al-dente according to the package instructions. I like to reduce the cooking time by 1 – 2 minutes. Then, strain and run under cold water to stop it from cooking further. Set to the side.
- Add Pesto: Add in 1 batch of this pesto without pine nuts. Alternatively, you can add ½ – ⅔ cups of store-bought pesto.
- Assemble Salad: In a large bowl, toss the cooked orzo, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell pepper, and mini pearl mozzarella balls. Drizzle the pesto over the salad and toss to coat. Enjoy!
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