This time of year I love hearty pasta dishes like this Spinach Orzo Salad that can play a lot of roles in meals. This salad, packed with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and fresh spinach, can be a dinner on one night, and a delicious packed lunch the next day!
When it comes to flexible salads and pastas, this one is up there. Once you get the hang of it, you can add darn near anything to this pasta mix, veggie, meat or cheese!
What is orzo?
Many people get confused with orzo and think it is a grain, I think because of its size and shape. Orzo is actually a pasta, which means that classically it has gluten in it so orzo salads like this are definitely not gluten-free.
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Orzo’s size makes it perfect for salads, like this Spinach Orzo Salad, because it’s easy to mix in with other ingredients. I will frequently cook orzo and just stir it in with whatever leftover veggies I happen to have in the fridge. For this day though, I mixed it with some classic Mediterranean flavors like artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh spinach for a delicious dish that can be on the table in about 30 minutes.
Prepping the Vegetables
There are some really good veggies in this Orzo Pasta Salad. I didn’t bother using fresh artichokes for it though because they are kind of a hassle. If I’m making fresh artichokes, I’m just going to eat steamed artichokes with butter or homemade mayo or stuffed artichokes. The marinated artichokes in oil work great for a dish like this so feel free to just use those.
Same goes for sun-dried tomatoes. Use the ones in oil for this dish. When it comes to the spinach, save a few bucks and just get a large bunch of adult spinach instead of baby spinach that comes pre-washed.
You are shooting for roughly even amounts of red onion, artichoke, and sun-dried tomatoes and then a smaller amount (but still a good amount) of garlic for this recipe.
All of the vegetables should be in bite-sized pieces without any huge chunks.
If you get a full bunch of spinach, use it all for this Spinach Orzo. Chop off the root ends and rinse the spinach really well. Spinach has a tendency to be very dirty so I recommend rinsing it under cold water for 30 seconds or so and then spinning it in a salad spinner to make sure it’s really clean. If you don’t have a salad spinner, just rinse it in a colander.
Cooking the Vegetables
To start the veggies for this spinach orzo salad, add a drizzle of oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat along with the red onion. Cook the onion with a pinch of salt until it is soft, about 3-4 minutes. Then add the artichokes, tomatoes, and garlic and continue to cook for a minute or two just to warm everything through.
Then you can add in your spinach. It’ll look like a lot but it wilts down substantially. I like to add about 1/4 cup of water to my skillet with the spinach to help it wilt quickly. The water will evaporate almost immediately.
Once the spinach is wilted, you’re ready for the pasta!
Cooking and Adding the Orzo Pasta
You should refer to the packaging for cooking your orzo, but it will most likely need to be boiled in a few quarts of water with a good pinch of salt and maybe also a drizzle of olive oil. The pasta will need to boil for probably 8-10 minutes but you should taste it regularly to make sure it isn’t overcooking.
When it is soft, but still has a very tiny bite to it, drain the pasta and give it a quick rinse under cold water. Rinsing the pasta will stop the cooking. I also recommend drizzling on some olive oil to prevent sticking.
The pasta pieces are so small that if you don’t rinse them, they will actually continue to cook and they might get mushy and gummy which isn’t a good texture.
Once the pasta is cooked and rinsed, just stir it into the skillet. You can also toss everything together in a large bowl if that’s easier.
Season the whole spinach orzo salad with some salt and pepper and serve it up with lots of grated pecorino cheese!
This Spinach Orzo could be a side dish, but Betsy and I ate it as a meal. You could serve it with garlic bread or a small side salad. It’s really pretty filling and works great as a vegetarian dinner option.
If you’ve never tried orzo before, I think this is a great way to try it. It’s a really flexible recipe and the flavors are delicious!
Substitutions and Ideas for this Pasta Salad
There are a wide range of options for this pasta salad. Here are a few substitution ideas!
- Adding protein! You could add grilled chicken or steak to this orzo for some extra protein.
- Cheese it up! This pasta salad doesn’t need cheese, but if you wanted to stir in some crumbled feta cheese or small fresh mozzarella balls, that would work just fine!
- Stuff even more Mediterranean flavors in with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and even fresh dill or basil.
- Add a lemon dressing with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Add fresh lemon zest also! Similar to this Lemon Orzo Salad from Cookin’ Canuck.
Storing the salad for later
This spinach orzo salad is a gem of a salad for leftovers lunches. It keeps well in the fridge for close to a week thanks to the vegetables being really sturdy. Eventually, the spinach will get kind of sad and wilted and you should probably move on from it at that point.
Store the salad in an air-tight container in the fridge or split it into smaller servings for easy grab-and-go lunches during the week!
Artichoke Spinach Orzo
- 12 ounces orzo pasta, cooked and rinsed
- ½ red onion, diced
- 1 bunch spinach, washed well
- 6 ounces marinated artichokes, drained
- ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, in oil, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Cook orzo according to package. This should involve boiling it in a few quarts of water along with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Boil it until it is just cooked, then drain it and rinse it quickly with cold water to stop the cooking (or it will become sticky).
- In a large skillet, add a drizzle of olive oil and the diced red onion over medium-high heat. Cook for a few minutes until onion softens. Season with a pinch of salt.
- Add artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic and continue to cook for another minute or two.
- Add washed spinach to the skillet along with a few tablespoons of water to help the spinach steam. Cook until spinach is wilted, just a minute or two.
- Stir in orzo and season with salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.
- Serve salad warm or cold with grated pecorino cheese.