I have been holding on to this delicious orzo pasta salad with lemon dressing and herbs all summer and I have no idea why. Maybe because we eat it so damn fast I can’t snap pictures of it. It is the quintessential summer side dish, and you should definitely make this now and all next summer.
The light as air lemon dressing and herbs is simple and compliments all the raw and grilled vegetables you can put into this salad. Orzo is a tiny pasta that requires something light, and something that doesn’t cause the tiny little pearls of pasta to clump together. And well, I have an awesome secret on achieving that…I prep the lemon herb dressing in a large serving bowl – minus the herbs – while the orzo pasta is cooking, and I pull out maybe 1/4 of the dressing to the side. I drain the pasta really well, and while still hot I put the pasta into the serving bowl and toss it hot, with the dressing. This gives you maximum absorption of all the lemon and olive oil directly into the orzo pasta, while coating lightly with oil, keeping it from clumping up together. It creates the perfect pasta, in my opinion.
Two parts of this are super adaptable: the vegetables and herbs you add to complete this.
I like to roast or grill some of the vegetables for a depth of flavor and leave some raw. Add whatever vegetable you have available to you and are in season. The more the better. Asparagus isn’t necessarily in season, but it is always available at my grocery store, so I always include in it. This time, I also added summer squash and tomatoes, because they are at their absolute best. The vegetables I use are ever-changing, next week I may use carrots because they are looking gorgeous at the farmer’s market. I hate eggplant, but if you like it, grill some up and use that…I am sure it will be great. I like to keep the vegetables cuts a bit larger than the orzo too – the pasta is really the compliment to the vegetables here, and you want to get a nice bite of vegetable.
As for the herbs…go big or go home! This salad is full of herbs, and for real, use whatever you have. I grow herbs and I literally use all of them (green and purple basil, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, parsley and sage), except lavender, in huge amounts in this salad. I always add more than what looks normal to me, and it is f’ing awesome. Super fresh tasting and the lemon dressing and herbs together pack a gorgeous, fresh, acidic punch – which is why this is so hard to stop eating.
Labor Day weekend is supposed to be the unofficial end of summer – I don’t about that shit – but considering it is supposed to be 85+ degrees all of next week in Chicago, I plan on hanging onto summer like my kid’s used to hang on to my legs when I’d be walking to the bathroom…kicking and screaming!! xoxo
Orzo pasta salad with lemon dressing and herbs
For the dressing
- Five lemons
- Three tablespoons of avocado oil or vegetable oil basically something neutral in flavor
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper use less if you are not a huge fan of pepper like me
For the rest of the salad
- a huge range of fresh vegetables use your imagination
- One box of orzo pasta one pound box
- salt for the pasta water
- 1 cup of fresh herbs of your liking if you have this much, if you don't, not probs at all - use what you can and have available to you
Cook pasta according to the box in salted water.
Assembling the dressing
While the pasta is cooking, zest three of the lemons into a large serving dish or bowl. Squeeze all the juice from all five lemons into the bowl along with the honey, salt and pepper and whisk together. While whisking, pour in both oils and whisk vigorously to combine. Pull out about 1/3 bup of the dressing.
To assemble and complete the dish
Drain the pasta really well, shake it around good in the colander, but do not rinse with cool water. Put the hot pasta into the large bowl with the dressing and stir together thoroughly so all the orzo is coated and absorbing the lemon dressing. Set aside to cool to room temperature. While it cooling prepare your vegetables. I like to roast or grill 3/4 of the asparagus and roughly chop into larger pieces. I chop the rest of the asparagus raw, on an angle but very thin. I roughly chop some of the summer squash and shave the rest with a vegetable peeler, and I halved the green beans this time length and cross wise. You don't have to, but seed the tomatoes before roughly chopping (or use grape tomatoes and half and seed them), I am not a fan of slimy seeds. And again - use any vegetables you like and have!
Then roughly chop the herbs all together. Don't finely chop them, you want a punch of flavor!
When the pasta is room temperature, add the vegetables and the herbs and toss together. Pour the set-aside dressing over and toss one final time. You can serve this at room temperature or chilled. It lasts for a few days refrigerated.