If you love pasta salad, this Lemony Chicken Orzo Salad will make it to your “top 5” list! This orzo pasta salad is bright and zingy with tangy bits of cured salami and mozzarella – it’s like the antipasto pasta!
When you think of pasta salad, you may think of that ho-hum, average mayonnaise-y elbow macaroni with celery and onions at a neighborhood potluck. If that’s what you’re looking for you’ll have to go elsewhere because this orzo pasta salad recipe is anything but average. My lemony chicken orzo salad is full of surprises.
This is a hearty, main course dish that’s perfect for the hot weather and since my car gauge read 92° this morning at 10 a.m., I figure a cold dish would be welcome for lunches and dinners this summer.
This orzo pasta salad recipe starts with matchsticks of zucchini (have you ever heard of a zucchini pasta salad?), ripe summer tomatoes and briny kalamata olives.
In my mind, pasta salad needs cheese. Nothing overwhelming, but those little mozzarella balls add a touch of creaminess — that and the lemon parmesan dressing… but we’ll get to that in a sec.
Pasta salad with mozzarella is not that unusual, but the slices of dry aged salami give it a meaty little pop. The parmesan dressing is a lemon-forward vinaigrette with lemon zest and juice, plenty of garlic, dijon and olive oil with a few tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese whisked into the dressing. It’s salty, tangy and vibrant without being too goopy for the chicken orzo salad.
Oh – and I mentioned the chicken right? Two cooked chicken breasts — I’ll be honest, I just used the breasts from our rotisserie chicken a few nights ago and it was perfect. But baking a few chicken bone-in, skin on breasts in a 400° oven for 20-25 minutes will yield the same results — Just remove the skin and bones before dicing the chicken into chunks.
Toss the chicken orzo salad with the lemony parmesan dressing, chopped parsley and basil.
Give it a quick taste to adjust any seasonings and serve at room temperature, or cover and chill to serve later.
This is a great salad for potlucks and picnics, and it holds up well for a few days in the fridge, so you could make a batch on a Sunday and take it for lunches the following week.
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Lemony Chicken and Orzo Salad
- 1 cup orzo pasta
- 1 medium zucchini cut into matchsticks
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved red and yellow if available, halved
- 1/2 cup red onion finely chopped
- 1 peeled and seeded roasted bell pepper diced (use a jarred pepper or roast one yourself at 400° for 20 minutes or until blackened.)
- 3 scallions thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup kalamata olives seeded and halved
- 1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2" cubes or use the BelGioso "pearls"
- 4 ounces dry salami sliced into bite size rounds or cut into 1/2" pieces
- 3 cups chicken breast meat from a rotisserie chicken, cut into 1/2'" pieces
- 1/4 cup italian parsley chopped
- 2 tablespoons basil cut into chiffonade
for the vinaigrette
- 1 lemon zested and juiced (about 2 tablespoons juice)
- 1 heaping teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 large clove garlic minced
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Cook the orzo until al dente -- according to package directions. Strain the pasta through a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to cool while you prep the other ingredients.
- In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, tomatoes, red onion, bell pepper, scallions, olives, scallions, cheese, salami, chicken and parsley. Add the cooled orzo.
- Make the dressing in a small bowl by combining the lemon zest and juice, dijon mustard, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Cut the basil into a chiffonade and sprinkle over the salad just before serving. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
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