Orzo salad with spring vegetables and herbs.

Of all the recipes in my Findlay Market Cookbook, this is one of two that I’ve made the most — both for my own enjoyment and for demonstrations when I’m out talking about the book. This pasta salad fixes every problem you’ve ever had with pasta salad, it’s bright and fresh-tasting, not too heavy, full of vegetables, unlike that bowl of corkscrew pasta with bottled Italian salad dressing that’s always the disappointment of a salad bar or backyard cookout.

But what I really love about this pasta salad is … well, a couple of things. First, it’s endlessly adaptable. The version of this recipe that’s in the book is very summery, with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and basil. The version I’m sharing here features spring vegetables and herbs. Starting with the orzo, chickpeas and dressing, you can make this pasta salad recipe your own; I’ve done a fall version with roasted red onion and butternut squash to great effect.

Second, it has just the right ratio of vegetables to pasta. Orzo makes a surprisingly great pasta salad, because it’s a canvas for the other ingredients rather than being a focus. (Tortellini pasta salad is, IMO, the worst offender, all pasta and no veggies. Please, do not make that.) Cooking the pasta in broth adds flavor without fat.

Finally, it makes a ton and keeps well, which means a batch made for Sunday night’s dinner becomes several days’ worth of lunch. This veggie-packed pasta salad recipe is a perfect side dish for grilled chicken or barbecued ribs.

Made with the asparagus, spring onions and arugula I found at the farmers’ market last week, I’ve been feasting on this pasta salad all week!

spring orzo pasta salad recipe

serves 8 as a side dish

For the dressing:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon local honey
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. With the machine running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in; blend to emulsify.

For the salad:
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 lb. (dried) orzo
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
2 cups frozen peas, blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces and blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch baby arugula
1/3 cup chopped green onion (white and green parts)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup toasted pine nuts or sliced almonds
4 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; stir in the orzo. Cover partially and cook until the orzo is al dente, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Drain the orzo and put it into a big serving bowl to cool. While the pasta is still warm, add about half the dressing and toss to coat. Let cool. Add garbanzo beans, peas, asparagus and toss gently to combine. Add arugula, onion and parsley and a bit more dressing; toss to coat. Top salad with Feta and almonds. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve at room temperature.

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