Summer Vegetable Orzo Pasta Salad

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Summer Vegetable Orzo Pasta Salad is orzo pasta salad packed with grilled corn and zucchini, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil tossed in a red wine vinaigrette.  It’s the freshest side dish for summer!

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I’m not sure why, but I forget about pasta salad most of the time.  Normally when I do serve one, it’s my Greek Orzo Pasta Salad (bad picture aside), and I love it so much, I tell myself I need to make it more often.  And then I just forget. 🙁

We were having some family over for dinner, and I needed a side dish that would be easy and feed a crowd.  I had a truckload of veggies and fresh basil from the farmer’s market, so it struck me that I hadn’t made pasta salad in ages.  I had some of my favorite orzo pasta, and I knew I had a winner.

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At first I tried to overcomplicate things thinking I needed to make pesto sauce for the pasta salad, and while that’s definitely something I would do to change things up, this time I really just wanted the flavors of the sweet corn, zucchini, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil to shine on their own.  No pesto, no cheese, no bells and whistles….just straight up freshness from my gorgeous summer produce. 🙂

My inner voice kept wondering if the pasta salad would be too plain tossed with a simple red wine vinaigrette, and you know what?  It was simple, fresh, and clean, but it was anything but plain.  I’ve become completely addicted to this salad, and have made it at least 3 times in the past month or so.  Every time I tell myself I’m going to make it with pesto sauce, then I don’t.

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Why overcomplicate a good thing?  Sometimes simplicity is best, especially when we’re dealing with summer’s finest.  I’ve been living on grilled corn and zucchini lately, so obviously those made an appearance here, and the tomatoes right now are outrageously good.  I picked up a basket of gorgeous heirloom cherry tomatoes and those colors….they get me every time!

The clincher for this delicious pasta for me is the gaggle of fresh basil I added to it.  Sure basil pesto is great, but there’s something about fresh basil, cut into a confetti-like chiffonade that makes things super special.  We get that fresh basil flavor that just heightens the flavors of everything else.  Just be warned that you shouldn’t chop your basil until just before you’re ready to serve the salad as it turns black fairly quickly once it’s chopped.  Toss it on last minute — confetti-style — and it will really seem like a summer party.

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This pasta salad just goes to show you that clean, simple, and fresh not only means easy — it means delicious.  Those colors, grill marks, and basil confetti do all the talking for you.  This is a side dish that not only feeds a crowd — it’s a straight up crowd pleaser, too. 🙂

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Summer Vegetable Orzo Pasta Salad
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Summer Vegetable Orzo Pasta Salad is orzo pasta salad packed with corn, zucchini, heirloom cherry tomatoes, & fresh basil tossed in a red wine vinaigrette.
Serves: About 8 servings
For the vinaigrette:
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinager
  • 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
For the pasta salad
  • 8 ounces orzo pasta
  • ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 small zucchini, stems removed and cut lengthwise into ¼" thick strips
  • 8 ounces heirloom or regular cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
  • ⅓ cup chopped red onion
  • 10 large fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade*
Prepare the vinaigrette:
  1. Place the vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream while whisking constantly until emulsified. Add salt and pepper, to taste, whisk once more, and set aside.
Prepare the salad:
  1. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Place in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Once drained, place in a large serving bowl.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, preheat the grill to medium. Toss the zucchini slices with the ½ tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Grill 2-3 minutes per side or until nicely charred and softened. Remove from heat and chop into ½" chunks, and place in the bowl with the pasta.
  3. Place the corn on the grill with the zucchini, and grill 12-15 minutes, turning ever 4 minutes or so until nicely charred. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Cut the corn from the cob and place in the bowl with the pasta.
  4. Add the cherry tomatoes and red onion to the pasta, and toss with enough of the dressing to coat. Toss in the basil just before serving -- do not chop it ahead of time as it turns black fairly quickly once it's chopped. Serve and enjoy!
*Basil chiffonade is done by stacking the leaves, rolling them up, then slicing them perpendicular to the roll. Be sure not to chop the basil until just before serving as it turns black fairly quickly after chopping!
Frozen corn may be used as a time saver.
The zucchini and corn may be sauteed or cooked in your favorite manner instead of grilling.
Recipe by Flavor the Moments.


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