Caprese inspired orzo pasta salad with basil pesto, juicy cherry tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, arugula, and topped with balsamic glaze and toasted pine nuts. This delicious pasta salad makes a great side dish, lunch, or summer cookout dish!
This pasta salad is made with caprese inspired flavors of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. For more summer caprese dishes, try Burrata Caprese Salad, Caprese Risotto, or Roasted Tomato Bruschetta with Burrata.
Why you'll love this recipe
- Tons of flavor. With ingredients like basil pesto and balsamic glaze, this cold pasta salad is packed with pops of fresh flavors.
- Perfect for a potluck! Change up the classic pasta salad with this caprese style pesto pasta salad instead for your next potluck or summer BBQ.
- Also makes a great make ahead lunch. I like making a batch of this pesto pasta salad at the beginning of the week to have an easy grab and go lunch that doesn’t need to be heated.
Ingredients & Substitutions
See the recipe card below for the complete list of ingredients and measurements.
- Orzo - Orzo is a small pasta that almost looks like long grain rice. If you can’t find orzo, any small pasta shapes will work like ditalini, orecchiette, or shells. You can also substitute for elbows, rotini or fusilli.
- Pesto - You can use store bought pesto, but homemade basil pesto is easy and delicious!
- Arugula - Arugula is a leafy green with a slightly peppery taste. You can substitute for baby spinach.
- Grape tomatoes - Any small sweet tomatoes will work. Cut them in halves or quarters.
- Mozzarella pearls - These are small bite sized balls of fresh mozzarella. They should be found near mozzarella in the refrigerated cheeses section in most grocery stores.
- Red onion - Be sure to thinly slice the red onion to cut down on its pungent flavor.
- Balsamic glaze - Also called balsamic reduction. You can use store bought or make your own balsamic glaze.
- Pine nuts - Toasted pine nuts add a nice texture to this orzo pesto salad. Substitute for walnuts or pecans.
How to make pesto orzo salad
STEP ONE: BOIL
Cook orzo pasta to al dente in a large pot of water with salt. Drain and set aside to cool.
STEP TWO: PREP
Cut grape tomatoes and thinly slice red onion.
STEP THREE: ADD
Add cooled cooked orzo, pesto, arugula, tomatoes, mozzarella, and red onion in a large bowl.
STEP FOUR: TOSS
Toss together and top with pine nuts and drizzle of balsamic glaze. Serve cold or room temperature.
What to serve with pasta salad?
- Cajun Shrimp Cocktail
- Bacon Cheeseburger Sliders
- Easy Cajun Blackened Shrimp
- Roasted Chili Corn Salsa (Chipotle Copycat)
- Crispy Dry Rub Chicken Wings
- Sous Vide Cajun Turkey Breast
- Roasted Vegetable Pesto and Feta Flatbread Wraps
- Turkey Burger with Caramelized Onions, Melted Brie, Sun-dried Tomato Mayo, Bacon and Arugula
- Salt the pasta water well! Salting the water well means the pasta will be well salted.
- Don’t overcook the pasta. Check the package directions and cook to al dente (which is usually 1-2 minutes less than regular cooking time). Rinse orzo with cold water after draining to stop the cooking process.
- Let pasta cool before mixing in other ingredients.
- Cut ingredients into bite size pieces for easier eating.
- Serve pesto orzo salad cold or at room temperature. It doesn’t taste as good when heated.
- If making ahead of time, save some extra pesto to mix in again just before serving, as the pesto will absorb into the pasta as it sits in the refrigerator.
- If you want to make your own fresh pesto, try this mortar and pestle pesto recipe!
- To make your own balsamic glaze, check out how to make balsamic glaze.
Make ahead instructions
If you want to make this pasta salad ahead of time, reserve some extra pesto to mix in again right before serving. Also don’t add pine nuts or balsamic glaze until just before serving.
Storage & Reheating
How to store leftovers: Store leftover orzo pasta salad in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
How to freeze: Do not freeze this pasta salad.
There are tons of variations for pasta salads!
- Change out mozzarella cheese for feta or goat cheese
- Add sun-dried tomatoes or sliced roasted red pepper
- Make it a meal - add perfectly cooked chicken breasts for a protein
- Add in sliced salty kalamata olives or black olives
- To make this more of a salad, add a few handfuls of fresh spinach
Frequently Asked Questions
You can make pasta salad a day ahead of time. Save some pesto to mix in just before serving, as it will absorb into the pasta
It is best not to heat pesto, so this orzo salad with pesto is best served cold or at room temperature.
Orzo Pasta Salad with Pesto
- Large pot
- cutting board
- Serving bowl
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoon
- BOIL: Set a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Cook orzo pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain and set aside to cool.
- PREP: Cut grape tomatoes and thinly slice red onion.
- MIX: Combine cooled cooked orzo, pesto, arugula, tomatoes, mozzarella, and red onion in a large bowl and mix well.
- FINISH: Top with pine nuts and drizzle of balsamic glaze. Serve cold or room temperature.
- Use store-bought pesto, or make your own homemade pesto (mortar and pestle + food processor directions)
- Make your own balsamic glaze or use store bought.
- Rinse orzo with cold water after draining to stop the cooking process.
- If making ahead of time, reserve some pesto to toss with again right before serving.
- How to store leftovers: Store leftover orzo pasta salad in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
- How to freeze: Do not freeze this pasta salad.