This Best Italian Orzo Salad features everything good about one-dish pasta salad: orzo, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumber, basil, and a tangy, sweet Italian dressing to tie it all together.
What is it about orzo anyway? Is it rice? Is it pasta? (Trick question. I know it’s pasta.) But it acts like a rice, quickly absorbing up liquid and even has the look and feel of rice. But, it has the bite and taste of pasta (if cooked correctly). All that is to say, if you’re sick of rice dishes and want something that’s quick cooking and delicious, you’ll want to give this easy orzo salad a try.
In addition to the orzo, I pack this dish full of flavors and textures with halved cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumbers, basil, and spinach, and then top it all off with a homemade Italian dressing that’s yummy on just about everything. (Don’t worry, you can use store bought dressing too.)
This pasta salad is an easy dish to whip up in a pinch and has seen its fair share of potlucks and picnics, all courtesy of yours truly. My only regret is that I only make enough for the event and rarely have any leftovers to take home.
WHAT IS ORZO?
Okay even though I already gave you the answer above, it turns out there is a lot to learn about this little gem of a pasta shape. Allow me to enlighten you with some orzo facts and figures:
- The actual word “orzo” translates to “barley” in Italian. But, nope, no barley in orzo.
- Orzo is typically made from wheat semolina flour.
- Orzo not only looks like risotto rice, but it acts like it too, absorbing the flavors of whatever it’s cooked in.
- There are 200 calories in a 2 ounce serving of orzo.
- You can eat orzo hot or cold.
- Before reheating orzo, it’s best to add a little water or stock and mix it up so that it doesn’t get too dried out.
- Dry orzo contains 7 grams of protein in a third of a cup.
- Orzo makes a good substitution for risotto rice, and vice-versa.
- It only takes about 8-9 minutes to boil a cup of orzo.
- Orzo is not typically gluten free, but you can find gluten-free varieties in your grocery store if you are gluten intolerant.
HOW CAN I CUSTOMIZE ITALIAN ORZO SALAD?
Orzo pasta salad, like most pasta salads, is easy to customize.
- Cook the orzo in chicken broth instead of water for a heartier flavor.
- Add diced bell peppers to the Italian Orzo Salad. Either cook them for a couple of minutes with the orzo in the pasta pot, or add them raw.
- I like to add cooked, sliced mushrooms to my orzo salad on occasion too.
- Make a Mexican orzo salad by leaving out the cucumbers, chickpeas, and basil, and adding in instead corn, black beans, and cilantro. Instead of Italian dressing, toss with Cilantro Lime Dressing.
- Shred a rotisserie chicken or leftover chicken and add it to the pasta salad to make it more of a meal.
- Feta or goat cheese in this pasta salad would be phenomenal! BRB, gotta go cheese up my salad!
- Speaking of feta, chopped kalamata olives would be a real winner in this orzo salad as well.
HOW DO YOU MAKE ITALIAN DRESSING?
Making your own salad dressing is super easy! For this one, I added the vinegar, oil, water, honey, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and spices and seasonings to a mason jar.
From there, all I did was screw on the lid really tight and shake, shake, shake (and maybe do a little dance too, cuz why not) until it was all combined and then poured it over the orzo salad and tossed the whole kit and kaboodle with two salad spoons.
HOW LONG IS ORZO SALAD GOOD FOR?
This Italian Orzo Salad will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for three to five days. It’s best kept in a shallow dish to keep big lumps of it from sticking together.
I wouldn’t freeze it. It will be super mushy when you thaw it out. Just make a fresh batch — this orzo salad made fresh is so worth it!
Best Italian Orzo Salad
- 12 ounces dry orzo
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2/3 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil
- 1/4 red onion chopped
- 1/2 cup packed baby spinach optional
- 1 cup Italian salad dressing (store bought or see below for my recipe)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 3 teaspoons honey
- 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper or 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
- 3 teaspoons Italian blend dried herb seasoning
- Place orzo in a pot, cover with water. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil. Cook 8-9 minutes until tender, drain and rinse with cold water.
- In a large bowl combine orzo, tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumbers, basil, onions and spinach (if using) and toss.
- Toss with the dressing to serve immediately, OR cover tightly and chill until ready to serve, then toss with dressing just before serving.
To Make the Dressing
- To make the salad dressing, combine all ingredients in a jar. Screw the lid on tightly, shake vigorously til well blended, then chill until ready to use or pour immediatley over salad and toss.