This Orzo Pesto Salad is a delightfully Italian-inspired summer side that is perfect for pairing with all your cookout favorites. Featuring rice-sized grains of al dente pasta tossed with a yummy garlicky basil pesto, juicy cherry tomatoes, and creamy mozzarella pearls … this simple 5-ingredient pesto pasta salad is the perfect addition to any meal.

45 degree angle shot of a white pasta bowl filled with vegetarian orzo pesto pasta salad.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

When it comes to summer, there are so many opportunities for al fresco dining. Whether you’re going on a picnic, sunning yourself at the water park, or hosting friends and family for a cookout or BBQ, there’s no question about it — May through August is for eating outside!

But, let me tell you a little secret: when it comes to hot weather eats, the sides are what steal the show! Sure, grilled chicken, steak, pork, and veggies are lovely. Who doesn’t love a grilled meal? 

That said, it’s all the other yumminess you add to the plate that takes the predictability of summer grilling to new heights. Enter my pesto caprese pasta salad. It’s light, bright, and deeply satisfying.

If you’re in the market for something new, you should also check out my showstopping Hasselback Caprese Salad, light and bright Pasta Salad with Bruschetta, zesty Southwest Quinoa Salad, or tangy Goat Cheese Tomato Bruschetta next!

This perfectly summery recipe for cold pesto pasta salad checks all the boxes for a side dish. Aside from being absolutely crave-worthy, it is also:

  • Perfect For Last-Minute Meals. The best thing about this cold orzo salad with pesto is that it is an absolute breeze to make. In fact, you’ll pretty much be done in the time it takes for your pasta to boil. If you’re anything like me, less prep time in the kitchen means more time soaking up the rays. 🌞
  • Made With Just 5 Ingredients! Yep, it’s quick to make AND has a short grocery list. Seriously, this dish couldn’t be any easier to make if it tried.
  • Versatile & Customizable. As if the ease of making it weren’t enough to love, you can also customize this pesto orzo salad to your liking. Try adding grilled chicken or shrimp for a pop of protein, or your choice of fresh or roasted vegetables for extra color. No matter how you serve this crowd-pleasing dish, it’s sure to be fantastic. 
  • Delectably Seasonal. Basil and tomato scream summer to me, but since we use greenhouse-grown cherry or grape tomatoes, you can enjoy the taste of sunshine all year long with this dish.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get to the kitchen!

Overhead shot of a large serving bowl filled with orzo pesto pasta salad.

Ingredients & Substitutions

If short grocery lists are your love language, this summer pesto pasta salad recipe is for you. Here’s everything you’ll need:

  • Orzo Pasta – While they might look like wide, flat grains of rice, orzo is actually a type of pasta. If you can’t find it, other small pasta shapes like ditalini, fregola, or Israeli couscous would all work beautifully.
  • Mozzarella Pearls – Also known as ciliegine, these bite-sized balls of fresh mozzarella are already prepped and ready. All you have to do is drain them and toss them in your salad! You’re also welcome to use slightly larger bocconcini, though you may wish to halve or quarter them first. Alternatively, you can use a large ball of fresh mozzarella and just tear or cut it into smaller pieces.
  • Grape Tomatoes – Grape or cherry tomatoes are perfectly sized for this pasta salad. You can also use larger tomatoes if you cube them, but opt for a firmer, meatier variety like Roma if you do.
  • Basil Pesto – Feel free to use either homemade or store-bought pesto here. You’re also welcome to experiment with other types of pesto (e.g. kale, arugula, parsley, etc). PRO TIP: Love pesto as much as I do? Check out my recipes for Pesto Butter Salmon, Pesto Baked Chicken, and Pesto Pizza Flatbreads to put the rest of that jar to good use. 
  • Fresh Basil – Tomatoes and basil go together like PB&J.
  • Salt & Black Pepper – Because seasoning is always in season. 😎


Luckily, you only need the basics to make this Mediterranean orzo pasta salad:

Ingredients needed to make orzo pasta salad with pesto measured out into bowls on a white table.

How To Make Orzo Pesto Salad

This orzo pesto pasta salad comes together in a jiffy. Here’s how:

Step 1: Cook the orzo according to the package directions. PRO TIP: Make sure to salt your pasta water!

Step 2: Mix the cooked orzo, mozzarella pearls, grape tomatoes, pesto, and fresh basil in a large mixing bowl, evenly tossing to coat.

Orzo, tomatoes, pesto, and mozzarella added to a mixing bowl.

Step 3: Season the salad with salt and pepper to taste.

Step 4: Rest the orzo salad in the refrigerator for at least 15-30 minutes before serving. 

Step 5: Garnish the orzo salad with extra fresh basil, then serve and enjoy!

Pesto pasta salad in the mixing bowl after tossing all the ingredients together.

Optional Variations & Dietary Adaptations

As much as I love this orzo salad pesto extravaganza just the way it’s written, there’s plenty of room for you to put your own stamp on it. Here are just a few variations to consider:

  • Gluten-Free – Make this a celiac-friendly meal (and give it some extra protein) by swapping in chickpea “rice” or the gluten-free short pasta of your choice.
  • Pesto Perfection – Feel free to use pesto made from any green like lemony parsley, herby cilantro, peppery arugula, or earthy kale. You can also opt to use a nut-free pesto variety (made with seeds) pistou if needed.
  • Noodle Around – Tortellini pesto pasta salad is a fun, extra flavorful twist to this simple side. You’re also welcome to use mini ravioli or any short orzo pasta substitute of your choice.
  • Add-Ins – You’re welcome to get creative here and bulk up your salad however you see fit. Consider adding grilled chicken or shrimp for a boost of protein, and extra veggies like chopped cucumber or onions, roasted bell peppers or zucchini.

Expert Tips

  • Seasoning is your friend! Make sure to salt your pasta water enough that you can really taste the salt. Then, make sure to season everything to taste before serving.
  • Patience is a virtue. Letting your pesto pasta salad marinate for at least 15 minutes in the fridge means all the flavors will have a chance to meld together. 
  • Tomatoes prefer room temp. After refrigerating your orzo salad, let it set out for a bit to let the tomatoes shake off the chill. They’re much more flavorful that way!
Tomato basil pesto orzo salad in a serving bowl with a silver spoon.

Serving Suggestions

This Orzo Pesto Pasta Salad is a vibrant, visually stunning dish. I suggest using a large platter or bowl to showcase the bright ingredients. Feel free to garnish it with some fresh basil leaves or shower of freshly grated parmesan cheese to add extra flavor and festive flair.

As far as when to serve it, this orzo salad is the perfect addition to any summer gathering. It pairs beautifully with all your entrée favorites like Pan Seared Chicken Thighs, Shrimp Oreganata, or Parmesan Crusted Cod.

Preparing a whole summer spread? Serve this colorful salad as the side, Spinach & Feta Turkey Burgers as the main and 5 Minute Air Fryer S’mores as the dessert.

Whip up a batch anytime you need to round out your meal with plenty of carbs and veggies. Alternatively, you can also pair it with some garlic bread and a fresh garden salad for a substantial vegetarian spread.

You can also try serving it in individual mason jars or clear plastic cups for a portable twist. This is a great move for potlucks, parties, and packed lunches. You’re welcome to experiment with different pasta shapes, such as farfalle or fusilli, to add some visual variety.


How to store pesto pasta salad?

If you have any leftovers, keep them in a clean, airtight container in the fridge for up to 4-5 days. Make sure to give everything a good stir before serving to redistribute all the goodies. Over time, the pesto sauce may become a bit dry, so you may want to add a little bit of olive oil or water to the salad before serving again to refresh the flavors and texture.

Also, keep in mind that if you’re planning on serving this salad at an outdoor gathering, it’s best to keep it chilled until you’re ready to serve to prevent any bacterial growth. I suggest using a set of nesting bowls. Place the salad in the smaller bowl, then use the larger bowl to fill with ice water and act as your personal pasta chiller!

Which pesto should I use? 

​​If you’re looking for a classic and authentic taste, traditional basil pesto is the way to go. It’s made with fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, and it has a bright and fragrant flavor that pairs perfectly with the orzo pasta and veggies.

However, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you could also try experimenting with different types like sun-dried tomato pesto rosso, earthy spinach pesto, or even spicy arugula pesto. Each of these varieties brings a unique twist to the classic pesto flavor, so they’re a fun way to transform this dish so it stays fresh all season long.

You could also use a homemade pesto, like my delicious Basil Pesto with Cashews.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference, so I would recommend trying out a few different types of pesto and seeing which one you like best

What if I can’t find mozzarella pearls?

If you can’t find mozzarella pearls, don’t worry! There are a few options you can consider instead.

One option is to use regular mozzarella cheese and cut it into small cubes or bite-sized pieces. While it won’t have the same adorably twee shape as the pearls, it will still provide the same creamy and slightly salty flavor that compliments the pesto and veggies.

Another option is to use another type of soft cheese that has a similar texture and flavor to mozzarella pearls, such as bocconcini, which are larger and creamier versions of mozzarella balls. You could also try using tangy feta cheese or creamy goat cheese crumbles.

If you can’t find any of these cheeses, you could also consider omitting the cheese altogether or replacing it with another ingredient that provides a similar texture — avocado, chickpeas, or edamame all fit the bill.

Remember, the beauty of this pesto pasta salad is its versatility, so don’t be afraid to experiment and make it your own!

Can I use a different pasta shape?

Absolutely! Feel free to use any shape you like. I prefer super small pasta like star-shaped pastina, round Israeli couscous, or fregola. Other short shapes like macaroni, penne, or farfalle are also great. Or, if you want more of a pasta that you can twirl, opt for angel hair!

Can I eat this warmed up?

Sure, it’s your rodeo! Just make sure to not warm it too much, or the mozzarella balls will have a tendency to turn everything into a big blob.

Hero shot of orzo salad with pesto, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella

Related Recipes

Still not sated? I hear you. Check out these other delectable summer favorites:

More Salad Recipes

More Side Dish Recipes

Connect With Me!

If you make this pesto orzo recipe or any of my other recipes, I would absolutely love to know! Tag me @wellnessbykay on Instagram so I can see and share your recreations.

Caprese pesto pasta salad in a serving bowl.

Love this recipe? Leave a comment and a rating! I love to see and it helps me continue to develop delicious recipes for this blog.

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Orzo Pesto Pasta Salad

  • Author: Kayla Berman
  • Prep Time: 10 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 Minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 Servings 1x
  • Category: Side Dish


This Orzo Pesto Salad is a delightfully Italian-inspired summer side that is perfect for pairing with all your cookout favorites. Featuring rice-sized grains of al dente pasta tossed with a yummy garlicky basil pesto, juicy cherry tomatoes, and creamy mozzarella pearls … this simple 5-ingredient pesto pasta salad is the perfect addition to any meal.


  • 8 oz orzo pasta
  • 8 oz mozzarella pearls
  • 1 1/2 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste


  1. First cook the orzo according to the package directions.
  2. Add the cooked orzo, mozzarella pearls, grape tomatoes, pesto, and fresh basil to a large mixing bowl. Combine thoroughly.
  3. Season the salad with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Let sit sit in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes before serving.
  5. Garnish orzo salad with extra fresh basil. Serve and enjoy!

Keywords: orzo pesto salad, orzo salad with pesto, pesto orzo salad, orzo pasta salad with pesto