Day 102: Summer Orzo with Radicchio ♥

Summer Orzo With Radicchio, another easy, adaptable summer salad ♥ Great for Meal Prep. Potluck Favorite. Vegan.
Today's summery pasta salad recipe: My go-to pasta salad during summer, packed with lovely Mediterranean flavors, radicchio, sun-dried tomatoes and olives. Keep Summer Orzo on hand for a quick side salad straight from the fridge or better still, as a bed for grilled fish or sautéed shrimp ... this is no heavy pasta salad, it's light and fresh and at least to my taste, downright habit-forming.

Great for Meal Prep. Potluck Favorite. Not just vegan, Vegan Done Real.

Tasting Radicchio For the First Time

I mixed my first bowl of Summer Orzo way back in 2005 during A Veggie Venture's first year when I cooked a vegetable in a new way every single day for an entire year. Back then, radicchio was a new green, er, red! for me. I fell hard for radicchio's distinctive flavor but hadn't learned, yet, to identify that flavor as bitterness, one of the five distinct flavors for which humans have taste receptors. (Some of the other distinct flavors are more familiar. Think sweet, think sour, think salty. Think savory and "umami".)

Taking Liberties

Back in 2005, I took considerable liberties with the inspiring recipe:
I omitted many tablespoons of oil, it's certainly not missed, taste-wise or calorie-wise. I've also made Summer Orzo without any oil at all but a small measure does prevent clumping.
I changed the proportion of pasta:vegetables, doubling the sun-dried tomatoes, the olives and the radicchio.
I tried but later skipped most of the expensive ingredients that didn't do much flavor-wise, keeping the ingredients with the most flavor impact.

Even with such substantial changes, the dish remains a pasta salad (vs a vegetable salad with some pasta) and it's easy to imagine going even further, adding still more sun-dried tomatoes and olives plus a whole handful of other ingredients.

I've even made Summer Orzo without radicchio! Radicchio's red color does make for a very pretty salad. But it's expensive, not always easy to find and at least in my kitchen, hardly a pantry ingredient. The great news? The salad still looks great and to my taste, still tastes great even without the radicchio.

Summer's Essential Salads

Now even many years later, Summer Orzo remains my "go to" pasta salad for summer. I love its fresh flavors. I love how it's great for meal prep, an easy salad to have on hand in the fridge. It's very light tasting, a great side side because it simply doesn't fight with any other foods.

WHAT IS RADICCHIO? Even though its tightly wound whorls are a lovely shade of warm burgundy and crisp white, radicchio is what we call a "bitter green". Learn more here in Vegetables 101: What Are Bitter Greens? You might call radicchio (rah-DEE-kee-o) "chicory" and in appearance and texture, it's easy to mistake radicchio for red cabbage, especially once it's chopped up in a salad. The flavor, however, is very different than cabbage, slightly bitter rather than cabbage sweet. In my supermarkets, radicchio is kept in small baskets (along with the endive and other specialty lettuces) near the fresh lettuces. I have a few more radicchio recipes.

RESOURCES I use two inexpensive cooking tools to make Summer Orzo. The first is a fine microplane (soooo many Microplane size and shape choices anymore!) to grate the garlic into a fine paste that melts into the pasta salad. It's easy, just rub the clove against the Microplane until the flesh spurts out the back side, leaving the skin behind. The second tool does double duty, pitting both cherries and olives. Again, there are many styles and shapes and price points for combination cherry and olive pitters. I only use mine a few times a year but there's really no replacing it other than sheer tenacity and the flat of a knife. My Disclosure Promise

LOVE ORZO? Those tiny pasta bits are intoxicating! Don't miss out on BLT Pasta Salad and Garden Pasta Salad with Mint Vinaigrette or the gorgeous summer main dish Baked Orzo Casserole with Eggplant, Olives, Goat Cheese & More. For something super-fast and simple? It's Orzo with Spinach.


Hands-on time: 25 minutes (more with olives that need pitting)
Time to table: 3 - 4 hours
Makes about 7-1/2 cups

About 5 cups water
2 teaspoons table salt
1-1/2 cups (336g) orzo (or other tiny pasta)

2 cups radicchio (170g), from about half a small head, cut into thin ribbons
8 ounces (225g) pitted Kalamata olives, halved or quartered
3 ounces (85g) no-oil sun-dried tomatoes, minced small
2 large cloves garlic, grated on a Microplane
Hot, Drained Pasta
1/4 cup (65g) white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons

COOK THE ORZO Bring the water to boil in a large pot over MEDIUM HIGH. Add the salt and pasta. Stir lightly to separate the pasta, then cover, reduce heat to MEDIUM and simmer until tender but still firm to bite (exactly how long will depend on your pasta). Drain the pasta, no need to reserve the cooking water.

MIX THE ORZO SALAD While the pasta cooks, prep the radicchio, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and garlic, collecting them in a large bowl. Stir into the hot pasta. Stir in the vinegar and olive oil, stirring well. Let the salad cool a bit, then stir in the basil.

REFRIGERATE Technically, Summer Orzo is ready to eat but the flavors do meld so a few hours in the fridge will be appreciated.

MEAL PREP Summer Orzo with Radicchio is definitely a make-ahead salad to keep in the refrigerator. Make it a day, even two days, ahead of time.

OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS The inspiring recipe called for 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts and 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese. To my taste, these add nothing more than extra steps, extra expense and unneeded calories. That said, I can imagine stirring in some other Mediterranean-style flavors such as good feta, roasted red pepper and capers. Going still further but veering from the Mediterranean cast, I can also imagine uncooked corn kernels, briefly cooked asparagus tips. Summer Orzo, make it your own!

MAKE IT FREESTYLE FRIENDLY Skip the orzo entirely and use zero-point quinoa. Bulk up with free vegetables like cucumber and roasted red pepper. Switch from sun-dried tomatoes to good summer tomatoes. Skip the oil, a little clumping won't hurt anyone. Don't skip the basil! Or the olives! Or even the radicchio!

"FRESH" SUN-DRIED TOMATOES The original recipe specified sun-dried tomatoes soaked in olive oil. But I only use fresh and soft sun-dried tomatoes which I find in a couple of grocery stores here in St. Louis, no oil and really delicious. To mince these sun-dried tomatoes, slightly flatten and stack four or five tomatoes. Make several cuts one direction, then turn and make several perpendicular cuts. I've also had good luck with packets of sun-dried tomatoes from Trader Joe's. The packets contain three ounces, that works out fine in Summer Orzo, no need to scale the recipe. I can also imagine using double that, two three-ounce packets of sun-dried tomatoes.
PITTING / CHOPPING OLIVES Life's too short to pit olives. :-) But if pitted olives are what you've got, go with it. Here's how I pit olives when forced to. On a hard surface, press the flat side of a knife against each olive, then extract the pit with your fingers. Once they're all pitted, you can then either chop or tear into two or three pieces. You can also buy a cherry pitter, it works just as well for olives.
BALSAMIC VINEGAR I use "white" balsamic vinegar, that gives all the beautiful balsamic flavor without staining the orzo and radicchio. That said, some times even white balsamic vinegar is surprisingly brown.
TIMING This is a small detail but one I've learned to pay attention to. I turn the hot, drained pasta into the mixing bowl with the radicchio, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic, the heat "cooks" and softens those ingredients just a bit. Then I stir in the vinegar and olive oil, the warm pasta will soak up the vinegar flavor and even just a tablespoon of olive oil will prevent the orzo from clumping together once it's chilled. But I leave the basil out until the pasta has cooled down a bit, because I want the basil flavor to be bright and fresh.

Still Hungry?


~ Summer Orzo with Radicchio ~
~ Spicy Thai Noodle Salad ~
~ Israeli Couscous Salad with Yellow Squash & Sun-Dried Tomatoes ~
~ more pasta salad recipes ~
~ Seasonal Soups & Salads – July ~
from A Veggie Venture

~ Greek Pasta Salad ~
~ BLT Pasta Salad ~ Garden Pasta Salad with Mint Vinaigrette ~
~ more salad recipes ~
from Kitchen Parade, my food column


No-Cook Tabbouleh (< a summer staple in my kitchen) Eggplant Sandwiches with Cilantro Hummus Summer Orzo with Radicchio Chipotle Chickpea Salad (< reader favorite!) Avocado Salad with Hearts of Palm BLTs with Avocado King Hill Farms Simple & Sublime Beets (< for beet lovers) Amaranth Greens More Matters: The New Fruits & Veggies Campaign Grilled Eggplant with Balsamic Honey Syrup Romano Beans in Butter-Braised Garlic (< watch for romano beans at the farmers market) Seared Radicchio Weight Watchers Italian Zero Points Soup Tomato & Onion Salad Stacked Ratatouille (< totally versatile!) Sautéed Cucumbers How to Cut Corn Off the Cob: Keeping All Ten Fingers, Capturing Every Delicious Kernel and Every Drop of Sweet Corn "Milk" Corn & Cucumber Salad with Fresh Blueberries Succotash Salad with Green Beans, Lima Beans, Corn & Tomatoes Raw Tomatillo Salad with Blueberries (< lovin' this year's blueberries!) Pretty Ways to Serve Summer's Best Tomatoes Loaded Iceberg Steaks with Homemade Thousand Island Dressing Quick Summer Squash & Tomato Saute

Looking for healthy new ways to cook vegetables? A Veggie Venture is home to hundreds of super-organized quick, easy and healthful vegetable recipes and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables. Join "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg to explore the exciting world of common and not-so-common vegetables, seasonal to staples, savory to sweet, salads to sides, soups to supper, simple to special.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2005, 2007 & 2019

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. mmmm - this looks really nice. Would be a perfect Root Source Challenge submission.....orzo closes tuesday!


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