There are few things that I love in the summertime more than pasta salad. I would forgo a burger any day of the week for a great bowl of pasta salad. I prefer a pasta salad that can be served at any temperature when I have to bring a dish to a potluck or picnic dinner. I love when pasta salad can be enjoyed as a lunch on-the-go or lazily on my couch with a spoon and a little Food Network.
When I first began cooking, Rachael Ray was my cooking idol. I had no idea what I was doing in the kitchen, but her no-nonsense approach to cooking inspired me to try making something other than convenience food in my kitchen. This pasta salad was one that she featured and I remember thinking how exotic it was to use orzo pasta and lemon zest.
“Look at me, world. I am a chef now, zesting my lemons and using orzo pasta.”
Over the years, I have grown more confident in the kitchen and this salad was my first dish to play with ingredients and to challenge myself to not read the recipe and just taste and feel a dish. Each time I made it, I changed something in it. I wanted it to be a dish that was happily inspired by Rachael, but had become my very own.
If summer is in a bowl, then this is summer. The pasta tastes so fresh from the bursts of lemon flavor throughout and the cherry tomatoes, spinach, and basil add that punch of flavor that makes this dish taste just like everything in the summer should taste like…as though it was plucked from your garden itself.
Eat it as a meat-free dish or add roasted chicken to it using my easy tips for roasting chicken for your pasta dishes. I absolutely love it both ways and encourage you to experiment with this recipe to create your own spin on it.
After all, you are using orzo and lemon zest.
Which makes you a chef.
Spinach & Tomato Orzo Pasta Salad
1 pound spinach, washed, dried, stems removed
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 lemons, zested (reserve the lemons for juicing over the pasta)
1 pound orzo, cooked as instructed
1/2 pound roasted chicken (use your favorite preparation or use my easy preparation for chicken)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the bowl
24 basil leaves, torn or thinly sliced
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
Salt and pepper
Pile spinach leaves in stacks 1 on top of the other. Thinly slice stacks of leaves to make spinach confetti. Pile shredded spinach into the bottom of a medium sized mixing bowl. Halve grape or cherry tomatoes with a paring knife and add them to the mixing bowl. Add the zest of 2 lemons to the bowl reserve the lemons for adding juice to the sauce later. Add hot cooked and drained orzo pasta to the mixing bowl and roasted chicken (if desired). The heat of the pasta will wilt the spinach and warm the tomatoes at the bottom of the bowl and get the juices flowing from veggies. The heat of the pasta will also release the flavor and oils in the lemon zest. Drizzle 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, add reserved pasta water, and the juice of two lemons over the pasta and toss to combine the veggies and orzo. Add basil and a generous amount of salt and pepper to taste. Toss the ingredients together to combine. Serve with grated parmesan cheese or leave plain if you are taking the salad on the go.
Prep Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 27 mins
Serving Size: Six Servings
Recipe Source: Adapted from Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals