Upscale Orzo Salad

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Upscale Orzo Salad

I would have to say that generally, I am not a pasta salad lover.  At all! I do like my Tangy Noodle Salad, although for over 15 years I made that salad in huge huge huge quantities for catering purposes.  It took a long time before I could even think about eating Tangy Noodles, but now? I do enjoy it every now and then.

Then last week, everything changed. I was kind of tired of salads with barley, salads with quinoa, salad with brown rice…and I happened upon a recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentis.  Containing pasta! But not that corkscrew kind slathered in mayonnaise you find in the deli section. Nope, Giada knows better. Hers contains orzo, dried cherries, arugula, toasted nuts – some of my favorites. I glanced at her recipe and then I went to town.  I immediately switched and swapped ingredients around and changed proportions so that the pasta is not the main show here, but merely a background ingredient.  

This is quick to make, plus it’s a great hot weather, non-mayonnaisy summer salad.  It has crunch from the toasted nuts and arugula, sweetness from the cherries, a little bitter from the greens and lemon juice and salt from the goat cheese.  

When my husband peered into the refrigerator he started with “You know, I don’t like pasta salads.”  “Uh-huh, just try it” I replied. And the rest is history since he ate two pretty large helpings.

Upscale Orzo Salad

Serves 4



  • 6 oz orzo pasta
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup fresh arugula
  • 2 oz crumbled goat cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chiffonade
  • ¾ cups dried cherries
  • ½ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • For garnish: 8 bing cherries, seeded and sliced if you have them  + about 2 Tbsp toasted pecans  

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add orzo and cook until not quite done, stirring once or twice, about 6-8 minutes.  Drain well and run cold water over the pasta. Shake until no water remains. Spread the orzo on a large rimmed dish and add the oil.  Add salt and pepper and toss once more. Refrigerate for around 10 minutes until it has cooled.

Meanwhile, measure and put the rest of the ingredients except the lemon juice and zest into a bowl.  When the orzo is cool, add the bowl of chopped ingredients and mix. Add lemon juice and zest, stir and taste to see if you would like more salt. 

Before serving, I usually slice a few fresh Rainier or Bing cherries on top just for interest and sprinkle the top with a few chopped nuts.  

The salad keeps in the fridge for a few days and is really light and wonderful.  This recipe is enough to feed four but can be easily doubled for larger groups. You could make it your own by subbing a different type of toasted nut, spinach instead of arugula, mint in lieu of basil, chopped dried apricots for the cherries.  Capiche?

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