A sweet, savory and full-flavored orzo salad for summer! This simple orzo pasta salad is loaded with all of summer’s best—tomatoes, watermelon and fresh basil. Add in some salty pecorino and a simple combo of olive oil and vinegar and lunch is served.
Table of Contents
Why This Recipe Works
We took one of our favorite summer salads—our Watermelon Tomato Salad—and turned it into a lunch-worthy salad. The addition of toasted al dente orzo makes this side dish a bit more hearty while still being light and fresh for summer.
Feel free to use whatever pasta you like to have on hand, just keep in mind the smaller the pasta, the better.
For this watermelon tomato salad recipe we prefer Black Diamond watermelons. They have a vibrant pink flesh and a dark green rind. They’re super sweet and labeled as “seedless watermelons,” which just means they have less seeds than traditional watermelons.
You can use any variety of tomato for this salad. We like to use big, juicy red tomatoes because they blend in with the watermelon and create a striking salad. These types of tomatoes include vine-ripe, Better Boy or Big Beef varieties. However, feel free to use roma tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, or even cherry tomatoes.
If you’ve got extra tomatoes on hand, try our Shepard’s Salad. It’s loaded with tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, shallot (or red onion), fresh mint and more.
We love Pecorino here—it’s dry and super salty which pairs wonderfully with watermelon! To get large thick strips, run a vegetable peeler down the side of the block of cheese. If you can’t find (or don’t like) Pecorino, you can also use Parmesan.
The type of vinegar you use is important! We love the flavor of sherry vinegar and find it pairs beautifully with the watermelon and tomato. Even though it’s made with sherry, it’s MUCH more nuanced than any white or red wine vinegar. It adds bright tang while also adding depth thanks to its sweet caramel and toasty notes.
Orzo is a tiny rice-shaped semolina pasta that’s perfect for salads and pilafs. We like to toast it briefly in the saucepan before cooking it in heavily salted water. Toasting the pasta gives it some color as well as toasty flavor.
Kosher salt and black pepper
We’re keeping the seasonings simple, just good kosher salt (we like Morton) and cracked black pepper. If you’re using Diamond Crystal kosher salt, you’ll likely need more salt that listed in the recipe.
test kitchen Tips
- If you have extra-juicy tomatoes, consider briefly draining the cubed tomatoes in a colander for a few minutes to avoid watering down the vinaigrette.
- We recommend seeking out sherry vinegar but if you don’t have it or can’t find it, you can use a high-quality red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar.
More Pasta Salad Recipes to Try
- Our Dill Pickle Pasta Salad is one of those side dishes that disappears in minutes. It’s light, tangy and loaded with flavor.
- This Healthy Mediterranean Pasta Salad is loaded with veggies, fiber and protein.
- Use any leftover orzo in this Greek Orzo Salad that’s absolutely loaded with flavor.
- We also love this Creamy Vegan Italian Pasta Salad from our friend Jess over at Plays Well With Butter.
Orzo Salad FAQs
We do not recommend making this ahead of time as the tomatoes and watermelon will start to weep a bit and water down the dressing. Additionally, we don’t recommend making this ahead and storing it in the refrigerator as the refrigeration will turn the tomatoes into a mealy mess.
Tomatoes should be stored on your counter at room temperature until you’re ready to use them. Once cut into, tomatoes should be refrigerated.
Pecorino is a super salty, dry cheese. You can replace it with shreds of Parmesan.
Watermelon Tomato Orzo Salad Recipe
- 1 ½ cups dry orzo pasta
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sherry Vinegar
- Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
- 4 cups cubed watermelon
- 3 cups cubed tomatoes (about 4 large tomatoes)
- 16 large basil leaves, torn
- ¾ cup shaved Pecorino cheese
- Add orzo to a medium saucepan. Place saucepan over medium heat and toast orzo, tossing pan occasionally, until orzo is light golden brown and fragrant, 4–5 minutes.
- Carefully add water to saucepan to cover orzo by an inch or so. Bring to a boil, then season heavily with salt.
- Cook orzo until al dente according to package directions. Drain pasta then return to saucepan and toss with a glug of olive oil to keep pasta from sticking; set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl whisk together 3 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Add cooked and cooled orzo, watermelon and tomatoes and toss to combine.
- Stir in basil and pecorino. Season with additional vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve immediately.