Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Pasta salads are one of those dishes that are ubiquitous with summer cookouts and potlucks in general. Sometimes they can be pretty boring or even dry. But they don't have to be! Pasta salads are one of those dishes that really can be whatever you want it to be. They can take on the flavors of your favorite cuisines and you can get incredibly creative with them. Even changing what noodle you use can greatly change a pasta salad without changing any other ingredients.
At their core, they are simple. It's pasta, a dressing, and whatever add-ins you like. Growing up, my mom always made what I think of as a pretty classic pasta salad made with Italian dressing. She actually still makes it quite a bit and I still love it. But sometimes you need to break out of the comfort zone and make something new.
I created this Mediterranean pasta salad because I just love those flavors and it is a little bolder than the traditional Italian dressing-based pasta salad (and even more so than a mayo-based one). I also love the similar pasta salad you can find at Whole Foods and figured I could come up with my own to make at home. Balsamic dressing adds a tangy and bold kick that soaks into the orzo and counters the sweetness of the tomatoes. I love adding chickpeas for a different texture and added protein. Feta and kalamata olives contribute a salty bite that you can't find anywhere else.
This pasta salad will be on repeat for you once you try it. It comes together so easily too that you'll gladly make it for any occasion.
Mediterranean Orzo Pasta Salad Makes ~ 6 C. of pasta salad Prep/Cook time: 25 minutes | Idle time: 1+ hour
Click the file below to download and print the recipe
I recommend reading the recipe all the way through, including the recipe notes at the bottom, before you start cooking.
1/3 C. olive oil
1/3 C. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. dijon mustard
3/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 C. uncooked orzo pasta
1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes (about 1 cup), cut in half lengthwise
1 C. fresh baby spinach (packed)
1/4 -1/2 C. kalamata olives, roughly chopped (amount to your taste preference)
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
6 oz. crumbled feta cheese (or block feta chopped into bite size pieces)
Bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove, salt your water, then add the orzo and cook according to the instructions on the package. If your pasta is done cooking before you are finished with the next steps, drain the pasta and drizzle with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking. DO NOT RINSE YOUR PASTA!
While the pasta cooks, make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, dried oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
If you haven't already, slice the tomatoes, chop the olives, and drain and rinse the chickpeas.
In a large bowl, add the cooked and drained orzo and all of the remaining ingredients except the feta. Mix everything so it is all evenly distributed. Add the feta and mix again.
Pour in half of the dressing and mix everything to coat it in the dressing. Add the rest of the dressing and mix again. The warmth of the orzo will help absorb the dressing and slightly wilt the spinach. This is what you want.
Cover the pasta salad and place it in the refrigerator for at least an hour to cool and let the flavors marry. It is best to make this a few hours before you need to serve it.
Before serving, stir the pasta salad again. If it seems dry, you can add another drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (no need to make more dressing, just drizzle in and stir).
Serve in a big bowl family style. This can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.
*Recipe notes + Variations*
If you want to add some crunch, feel free to add some finely diced red onions or celery.
Swap arugula for the spinach for a peppery bite. Or baby kale for a different green.
If you don't like kalamata olives (they are definitely a strong flavor), swap for your favorite olives or leave them out. I think the olives provide a salty balance that is needed, so if you leave it out, just know you may end up with a less flavorful dish.