Recipe: Orzo Salad with Spinach Pesto, Olives & Feta

updated Oct 30, 2019
Orzo Salad with Spinach Pesto, Olives & Feta
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

What is a summer picnic without its side salads? This one is particularly well-suited to the potluck table. The bright green pasta beckons from across the lawn, and the pungent flavors of olives and crumbly feta make an irresistible companion to grilled chicken and grilled fish. Yup, this salad is destined for picnic glory.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The inspiration for this recipe came from a prepared salad I picked up at the store to serve alongside my Beer-Brined Chicken Breasts. It was a decent enough salad, but I thought that it had the potential to be much better.

My basic strategy was to make the same salad, but more! More feta and olives for their punchy, salty flavor. More shallots for their spice and subtle crunch. Better olive oil in the pesto and a squeeze of lemon to brighten all the flavors.

In the case of this particular salad, more was definitely better. I couldn’t stop spooning little tastes from the bowl, even as I packed it away for future dinners.

This is one of those salads that improves the more it sits. I recommend making it the day before your gathering and bringing it still cold from the fridge. It will keep on a table at room temperature for several hours, tempting passerby with its fresh, garlicky aroma. Because one more scoop of side salad never hurt anyone.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Orzo Salad with Spinach Pesto, Olives & Feta

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info


For the pesto:

  • 6 to 8 ounces

    baby spinach

  • 1/3 cup


  • 1/3 cup

    lightly packed grated Parmesan cheese

  • 1 to 2 cloves

    garlic, depending on your love of raw garlic

  • Juice 1/2 medium lemon

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons

    olive oil

For the salad:

  • 1 pound

    dried orzo pasta

  • 6 ounces

    feta cheese, crumbled

  • 2/3 cup

    kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

  • 1

    medium shallot, small dice

  • Juice 1/2 medium lemon

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, make the pesto.

  2. Make the pesto: Layer about half the spinach into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Scatter the walnuts, Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice, and salt over the spinach. Pulse until the ingredients are incorporated and the spinach is coarsely chopped. Add the remaining spinach. With the motor running, stream 3 tablespoons of the olive oil into the spinach until it is saucy. Scrape down the sides and give it a taste. Add more salt or lemon juice to taste. If you'd like a richer pesto, stream in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

  3. Make the salad: Add the orzo to the water and boil until al dente, about 8 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Immediately add the pesto, feta, olives, shallots, and lemon juice and stir gently to combine while the pasta is still warm. Taste and season with more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed.

  4. Let the salad cool and then refrigerate for up to a week. The flavors improve by the second day.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

(Images: Emma Christensen)