Fresh and flavorful, this bruschetta orzo pasta salad is going to be a summertime favorite! Bonus: No mayo or yogurt so it’s great for warm-weather picnics.
In my opinion, orzo is the perfect pasta for salads and soups. I love it for pasta salad because you always get this wonderful bite of pasta with all the other ingredients, unlike a bigger pasta shape where you might just get a bite of pasta and nothing else.
I love orzo in soup for the same reason: you get a little bit in each bite. And there are no long noodles to slurp! No one wants to be seen doing that. I love orzo in easy meatball soup and creamy tomato soup with whole wheat orzo. My new favorite is a one pot pasta dish: vegetarian orzo with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. So good!
I’ll throw all my favorite pasta salad recipes at you at the end of this post, including one of my go-to potluck/BBQ orzo salads, but let’s talk about this one first!
About This Salad
The first time I made this salad was for a party at my parents’ house. I knew they were expecting a large crowd, and this salad makes a big batch! It has wide appeal because it doesn’t have strange or unusual ingredients. Most everyone knows and loves tomato bruschetta and this bruschetta orzo pasta salad is no different – it’s a hit!
We didn’t quite finish it and I’m happy to say that it tastes great leftover too. I may or may not have eaten it alongside my scrambled eggs the next morning.
Since then, I’ve made this salad so many times! It’s easy and perfect for potlucks or picnics.
How To Make Orzo Salad
This orzo salad is so easy to make (which is another thing I like about it). Begin by cooking the pasta. Drain it, rinse it with cold water, and drain it again. This process stops the pasta from continuing to cook from residual heat. Drain it really well; you don’t want to water down your salad.
While the pasta is cooking, mix together a few of the other ingredients (tomatoes, finely minced onions, garlic, white balsamic vinegar, GOOD olive oil, salt and pepper) and let them marinate awhile, allowing all the great flavors to soak into the tomatoes.
The tomato bruschetta mixture goes into the cooled pasta. The salad is completed with lots of fresh basil and shredded Parmesan cheese. If you’re not planning on serving the salad immediately, hold off on adding the basil and cheese.
This pasta salad is simple summer perfection and it doesn’t have mayonnaise or yogurt, so you can feel comfortable setting this out for a couple hours while people enjoy their food.
Another one of my favorite summer salads with some of the same flavors is Caprese pasta salad. And don’t forget to take a look at the recipes for Caprese couscous stuffed tomatoes and hot Caprese dip. Lots of summer yumminess, especially if you have homegrown tomatoes.
A few notes about this salad
- Use white balsamic vinegar, if possible. Traditional balsamic vinegar tastes okay but it changes the color of this salad to a somewhat unappetizing brownish shade.
- If you like, soak the onions in ice water before adding them to the salad. It’s optional, but it takes the strength of them down a notch and prevents them from being overwhelming. My husband said the salad had too much onion. I guess two little tablespoons in a giant bowl of pasta is too much. I’m not rolling my eyes.
- Look for a variety of colorful tomatoes for a really pretty salad. It’s not required though, all red is totally fine.
- Use high-quality, flavorful, extra-virgin olive oil in this recipe (one I like a lot is California Olive Ranch). It’s such a fresh, light salad so the flavor of the olive oil really shines through. Using a great tasting olive oil will really make the flavors pop and elevate this orzo pasta salad from pretty good to outstanding.
- To make this a main meal, add grilled chicken with Italian marinade, or shrimp. For a vegetarian meal, add fresh mozzarella or cannellini beans.
Orzo is just like any other pasta. It has lots of carbs and should be eaten in moderation. Add plenty of vegetables and choose whole wheat orzo to add more nutrition.
Many people are under the impression that orzo is a grain, rather than a pasta, because of its size and shape. In fact, in Italian, it’s translated as “barley.” However, it IS a pasta made with wheat and can be used interchangeably with any other pasta in recipes.
Make Ahead Ideas
To get a head start on this salad, cook, rinse and drain the pasta a day ahead. Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge. You’ll be able to whip up this salad in no time.
If you prefer, make the entire salad the day ahead and refrigerate. It makes a delicious lunch, too, perfect for lunchboxes. See the Storage Tips below.
This pasta salad will keep in the fridge for up to five days. You may need to make another half batch of the dressing and add it to the salad before serving since the pasta will continue to absorb the dressing.
More Pasta Salads
… some with orzo, and some with other types of pasta. Try:
- Creamy Southwestern Orzo Salad (this one is my go-to!)
- Grilled Ratatouille Pasta Salad
- Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad
- Tortellini Pasta Salad with Pepperoni and Italian Vinaigrette – with video
- Orzo Salad with Yogurt Dill Dressing
- Greek Orzo Salad with Roasted Shrimp
- 1 box (16 oz.) orzo pasta
- 3 cups small-diced fresh tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons finely minced red onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (see note)
- 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (see note)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup minced fresh basil
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
- Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, and salt. Stir to combine, cover, and set aside for 15 minutes for flavors to meld.
- Mix together pasta and tomato mixture until all ingredients are combined. Add basil and Parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
- Serve immediately or store covered in refrigerator for up to 3 days. If not serving immediately, reserve basil and add just before serving.
- Use white balsamic vinegar. Traditional balsamic vinegar is okay but it will change the color of this salad.
- If desired, soak the onions in ice water before adding them to the salad. It’s optional, but it takes the strength of them down a notch and prevents them from being overwhelming.
- Choose a variety of colors of tomatoes for the best visual appeal.
- I recommend using high-quality, flavorful, extra-virgin olive oil. It’s such a fresh, light salad so the flavor of the olive oil really shines through. Using a great tasting olive oil will really make the flavors pop and elevate this orzo pasta salad from pretty good to outstanding.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.