Everyone loves this easy to make Mediterranean Risoni Salad (Orzo) . It is full of summer flavours with fragrant basil pesto and juicy tomatoes. Best of all? It not only looks pretty but travels well for picnics and BBQs too! Made with risoni pasta, which is also called orzo pasta, this easy salad will be your new favourite for summer!
I like to make this orzo pesto salad in high summer, when tomatoes are juicy and my basil plants are lush!
Just like my other favourite summer salad for parties, Potato Salad with Dill and Peas it keeps well and travels well, which is great because I love to bring at least one substantial 'something' to grills and bbqs. Just in case. The Mediterranean flavours in this salad pair beautifully with my favourite burger of all time for BBQing: The Ultimate Vegan Seitan Burger
- Orzo/Risoni Pasta: Orzo is the typical name for this pasta, but in Australia it's often called risoni. It's a small pasta shape that looks like a slightly chunky grain of rice. Perfect for making salads with!.
- Fresh Basil Pesto: I make mine with basil, garlic, nutritional yeast (instead of parmesan to keep it vegan) pine nuts and olive oil. You can use your favourite recipe, or store bought pesto instead.
- Cherry Tomatoes: Juicy ripe cherry tomatoes are sweet and perfect with the pesto.
- Lemon Juice: Adds freshness and zing to the salad.
- Extra Virgin Olive oil: for adding to the pesto dressing.
- Red Peppers (Capsicum to Aussies): Mild red peppers are sweet. I sometimes add yellow or orange peppers for extra colour.
- Green/Spring onions: Perfect for a lovely extra zing and zip. (also known as scallions)
- Pine Nuts: Toasted pine nuts are a lovely extra texture in the salad.
See recipe card for the full quantities for this Orzo/Risoni pesto salad.
This salad is super simple to bring together. If you choose to make your own pesto, do this step first.
First make the pesto: (Skip the first 3 steps if using store bought) Whizz up the pine nuts and garlic in a food processor.
Add the basil, nutritional yeast, olive oil and salt to the food processor and pulse for a minute or so.
Add extra olive oil until your pesto is a lovely rough pesto texture.
Cook the orzo/risoni pasta according to directions and cool off immediately in cold water. Mix in a small teaspoon of olive oil. Add all the salad ingredients to the orzo/risoni.
To make the pesto dressing, Add lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil to the pesto and mix well.
Finally mix the pesto dressing into the orzo/risoni salad and mix together well.
Hint: Cool the pasta down by running cold water over it. Then add a small amount of olive oil to the pasta to prevent it from clumping.
🌿Substitutions and Variations:
This Meditteranean Risoni Salad can be customised to how you like! Why not try a different flavour pesto or add some fun extra bits.
- Pesto: -use your favourite pesto as the base for the pesto dressing. It can be home made or store-bought. Why not try my Vegan Parsley Pesto with Pistachios ?
- Gluten-Free - If you can find good gluten-free small-shaped pasta you can use that instead of the usual risoni/orzo.
- Vegan Feta- Use your favourite vegan feta as a lovely addition to the salad.
- Spicy- I love how this salad is quite simple, but add some of your favourite hot sauce if you like spice!
Traditionally pesto was made with a mortar & pestle and pounded to the correct consistency. Fun Fact! Pesto comes from Pestare in Italian, which means to pound or crush!
These days we find it easier to use a food processor or blender. I love using my Kenwood processor. It's very old now, but you can find a similar one on Amazon.
Otherwise all you need are a good knife, a saucepan and stove!
This salad keeps for up to 5 days in the fridge. It's also safe to keep it out of the fridge in a cool place for up to 12 hours (Eg in a cool box or lunch box).
This salad will not freeze well!
Risoni and Orzo are the same type of pasta! It is a small pasta shape that resembles rice. It is mostly used in soups and stews, but also makes an excellent pasta shape for salads.
You can use any short pasta shape you like in this salad. Long thin pasta shapes don't lend themselves to salads.
Traditionally orzo/risoni is simply a pasta shape. Most pasta is made with wheat, so it is not gluten free.
Yes of course. Just check the cooking times. Choose a short shape rather than a long shape.
I do not recommend you freeze pasta salad as it will not thaw out well.
Mediterranean Risoni Salad with Pesto (Orzo Salad)
For accuracy, I measure all ingredients in metric as standard, then convert and test the recipe for American cup measurements etc.
(Heads up Aussie and UK readers- your measurements in cups are sometimes different, so please use metric or check you have the correct cup and spoon type!!)
For the Salad
- 225 g (1.5 cups) orzo pasta (also called risoni pasta)
- 200 g cherry tomatoes
- 1 red pepper
- 100 g spring onions (scallions) (1 bunch: About 10 total. )
- 50 g pine nuts
- Salt to taste
For the Salad Dressing
- 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 tablespoon fresh pesto (see below for pesto ingredients if you want to make your own.)
To make the Pesto: if using your own.
- In a food processor, whizz up the pine nuts and garlic1 clove garlic, 30 g Pine Nuts
- Add the basil leaves (make sure they are dry!), nutritional yeast and whizz for a second.Salt to taste, 25 g nutritional yeast, 50 g fresh basil leaves
- With the blade turning, add in the olive oil until it becomes a thick paste.3 tablespoon olive oil
To make the pesto dressing:
- Add the pesto, lemon juice and olive oil and mix to combine.2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 4 tablespoon fresh pesto, 1 tablespoon olive oil
To make the salad
- Boil water and cook the orzo/risoni as per instructions.225 g orzo pasta
- Meanwhile, in a dry frying pan, toast the pine nuts. Be sure not to let them burn as they will colour up very quickly.50 g pine nuts
- Finely chop the spring onions and pepper. Cut the cherry tomatoes in two or four, depending on how large they are. You want everything to be small to combine nicely together.1 red pepper, 100 g spring onions (scallions), 200 g cherry tomatoes
- Once the orzo/risoni is cooked, drain and refresh it in cold water. Drain again and add a little olive oil to stop it cooking.225 g orzo pasta
- Now toss all the salad ingredients with the pesto dressing. Garnish with more tomatoes and basil leaves if desired!