Full of bright and fresh flavors, spring orzo salad will make you happy from the very first bite! Crisp asparagus, spicy arugula, and flavorful pine nuts are dressed in a delightful lemon basil vinaigrette.
Why you’ll love it: Most of the components of the salad can be made ahead, making it easy to assemble when ready to serve.
How long it takes: 25 minutes
Equipment you’ll need: large pan for pasta, mixing bowl, small food processor or blender
I first made this spring orzo salad in December, totally out of season at the time but still completely delicious. I made it for our Christmas cooking club and needless to say, it was a hit, along with the wonderful food the rest of the group made.
No one cared that asparagus wasn’t in season at the time. They only cared about the fresh and bright flavors of this pasta salad. They cared about the peppery arugula, the salty artichokes, the irresistible pine nuts, and the bright citrus herb dressing. Or at least I’m guessing they did. I sure did!
We ate leftover salad the next day and it tasted fantastic leftover, too. (I confess, I ate it for breakfast.)
This is one of my favorite pasta salads for summer, and I think you guys will love it just as much as I do.
Why You’ll Love This Spring Orzo Salad
- Packed full of spring flavors: With crisp asparagus, spicy arugula, creamy artichokes and a tangy lemon basil vinaigrette, this salad sings like the happy birds saying hello to spring.
- Easy to make: You can have this salad ready in less than a half an hour. Orzo is a quick-cooking pasta and you can cook the asparagus in the same boiling water. The dressing is easy to whip up, too. Take the time to toast the pine nuts, it’s really easy and takes about 5 minutes. Learn how to toast pine nuts,
- Healthy: Green is good, right? There’s lots of green in this orzo salad (and only 313 calories.
More Orzo Salads
I love orzo salads! I looked through my recipe archives at my other orzo salad recipes and it appears I have a problem. But if loving orzo salad is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.
I love how orzo pasta fits right on your fork with whatever else may be in the salad. You always get a little bit of everything in one bite.
We have bruschetta orzo salad (another one of my faves!), creamy southwestern orzo salad (this one is always a HUGE hit!), orzo salad with yogurt dill dressing, spinach orzo salad with chicken meatballs and chickpeas, orzo salad with watermelon, feta, and chicken, orzo salad with chicken and vegetables (this one uses a rotisserie chicken!), and Greek orzo salad with shrimp.
Let’s get started on making this spring salad. I’ll run through the ingredients and how to make it. The full recipe is on the recipe card below.
What You’ll Need
- Orzo: I usually use regular orzo for this salad but if you prefer whole wheat, that will work fine, too (if you can find it). For more info about orzo, read the FAQ section below.
- Asparagus: Look for crisp green asparagus with compact buds. Snap off the tough ends before chopping it into one inch pieces. There’s no need to peel asparagus. You’ll need one bunch, about 16 oz.
- Canned Artichokes: Look for a can of quartered artichoke hearts. Drain the liquid off and then roughly chop them.
- Baby Arugula: Pleasantly spicy and tender, baby arugula provides a perfect counterpoint to the asparagus and the salty parmesan cheese. If you aren’t a fan, substitute baby spinach.
- Parmesan Cheese: Shred your own cheese for best texture and flavor. This is not the place to use the powdery grated cheese.
- Pine Nuts: These tasty little nuts are the crowning touch. Toast the pine nuts first for the best flavor and add them just before serving the salad so they stay crunchy.
- Lemon Basil Vinaigrette: Although you can buy lemon basil dressing, it’s not nearly as fresh tasting as homemade.
- Fresh Basil: Perhaps you have basil growing in your garden but if you don’t, buy a 2 oz. package.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Use a good quality olive oil because it will really make a difference in this vinaigrette.
- Lemon Juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice is best.
- Red Wine Vinegar: This vinegar is slightly sweet and adds just the right note to the dressing.
- Honey: A dribble of honey balances the tartness.
- Kosher Salt, Red Pepper Flakes, and Garlic Powder
How To Make Spring Orzo Salad
Cook the pasta and asparagus. Bring a large pan of water to a boil and cook the orzo according to package directions. Because it’s a small pasta, it cooks quickly.
A few minutes before the orzo is done, add the chopped asparagus to the pan to cook.
Put a colander into your sink and drain the orzo/asparagus mixture. Rinse it with cold water and drain well. Set aside.
While the orzo and asparagus are cooking, prep the dressing. A small food processor or blender works well. Process the basil, olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, honey, salt, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder until the dressing is smooth and emulsified.
Combine the orzo, asparagus, arugula, artichoke hearts, and parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Add vinaigrette and mix until the salad is coated. Reserve the pine nuts until you’re ready to serve the salad.
Serve the salad immediately, garnished with lemon wedges, if desired. Enjoy!
Although orzo may remind you of rice, which is usually rinsed before cooking, it’s actually a small pasta. It does not require any rinsing before you cook it. However, if the cooked orzo is part of a salad, rinse the orzo in cold water after you drain it, and then drain it again. Rinsing stops the hot orzo from cooking longer, removes the starch that may be clinging to it, and cools it down before you add more ingredients to your salad.
Orzo is delicious in hot dishes and in cold salads. I’ve talked about orzo salads already but I also have plenty of recipes for orzo hot dishes. Try vegetarian orzo with sundried tomatoes (a one pan pasta dinner), creamy lemon orzo with greens (I’m in love with this one), and lemon chicken orzo soup (make it on the stovetop or in your Instant Pot).
Make it Your Own
- Make it a meal: This spring orzo salad is absolutely fantastic (like so, so, so good) topped with grilled chicken or grilled salmon for a complete summer meal. It serves four to six if plated in this manner. For a vegetarian main course salad, add protein with chickpeas.
- Add or substitute: Try baby spinach if you’re not a fan of the spicy flavor of arugula. Crumbled feta cheese can be substituted for Parmesan cheese. Instead of asparagus, try sugar snap peas or garden peas. Fresh mint or parsley can be added.
Make Ahead Ideas
Much of the salad can be prepped up to a day ahead and stored separately in the refrigerator. Make the vinaigrette, cook the orzo and asparagus, grate the Parmesan, and toast the pine nuts.
An hour before you’re ready to serve the salad, remove the vinaigrette from the refrigerator to allow it to warm up a bit. Sometimes olive oil hardens a little when it’s cold. Shake or whisk the vinaigrette before adding it to the salad.
Add the toasted pine nuts immediately before serving so they stay crisp.
This salad is best served immediately or within a few hours of making it. It tastes great leftover but the pine nuts do get a bit soggy and the arugula will wilt. That doesn’t stop me from eating the leftovers for a couple days, but you should be aware of it.
- 8 ounces uncooked orzo pasta
- 1 bunch (16 oz.) asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1 can (14 oz.) quartered artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
- 5 oz. baby arugula
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup pine nuts (toast them first for best flavor)
- Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add orzo and cook according to package directions. Two minutes before orzo is fully cooked, add asparagus to the pan to cook. Drain orzo and asparagus; rinse with cold water until cool; drain well.
- Meanwhile, make dressing. Combine all dressing ingredients in a blender or mini food processor and blend until smooth. Makes ¾ cup dressing.
- In a large bowl, combine the pasta, asparagus, artichoke hearts, arugula, and parmesan cheese. Add the lemon basil vinaigrette, stir to coat. Add the pine nuts right before serving the salad.
- Serve immediately, garnished with lemon wedges, if desired.
- If you don’t have time to make the vinaigrette, purchase lemon basil dressing (Newman’s Own, Wishbone, or another brand). You’ll need ¾ cup (6 oz.).
- Substitution ideas or add-ins: baby spinach, peas, sugar snap peas, feta cheese, fresh mint leaves, parsley.
- Learn how to toast pine nuts (3 methods).
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.