Pasta Salad for Parties, Potlucks, and Picnics

Orzo, preserved lemon, olives, veggies and pine nuts make the perfect salad for parties, potlucks and picnics.

A Lemony Orzo Salad

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This recipe makes a huge bowl of pasta! This salad can be served hot, cold or at room temperature making it a great dish for parties, potlucks, and picnics, or really – just anytime you want it. There’s no meat, mayo, egg or anything to go bad if it sits out for a few hours.

When I make it for the two of us, we usually get two meals and a couple of lunches. Yes – we can make a meal out of it, it’s so good! Bobby eats the leftovers cold. I prefer them warm or at room temperature so I’ll microwave mine for about a minute. Sometimes we’ll add a little more protein to the salad by sauteing a few Creole seasoned shrimp in some butter and serving on top of the pasta.

This particular recipe calls for preserved lemons, but if you don’t have any [shame on you – just kidding] – you can make a quickie preserved lemon with lemon zest, juice, and salt while you’re cooking up the recipe. Check out the Kitchen Notes on how to do this.

Lemon Orzo Salad Recipe
30 mins
Total Time
30 mins
A hearty pasta salad filled with vegetables and great flavor. Perfect for parties, pot lucks and picnics.

"*" See Kitchen Notes for more information or links to special ingredients.

Course: Side Dish, Vegetarian
Recipe Author: MJ of MJ's Kitchen
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil (garlic infused olive oil if you have it)
  • 12 to 16 ounces uncooked orzo
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped artichoke hearts (optional*)
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olive or green olives with pimento, sliced
  • ½ a preserved lemon, chopped *
  • 1 Tbsp. Preserved lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Feta cheese, crumbled or ½ cup Romano, grated
  • 3 Tbsp. Pine nuts (Piñon nuts, toasted *)
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil and/or mint, chopped
  • Salt and cracked pepper to taste
All of the ingredients end up in a large bowl, so go ahead and get out a large serving bowl.
  1. Cook the orzo until al dente. Once cooked, reserve about 1/2 cup of the water (set aside), drain the orzo, and pour orzo into the large serving bowl.

  2. While the orzo is cooking, sauté the onion and bell pepper in the oil over medium-low heat for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 3 minutes. Turn down the heat if the garlic starts to brown.
  3. Remove from the heat and pour into the bowl with the pasta. Use a rubber spatula to get as much oil from the skillet as possible. Stir to coat the pasta with the oil and to incorporate the vegetables.
  4. Toast the pine nuts to a light brown over medium-low heat in a dry skillet, shaking frequently.

  5. Add the preserved lemon and lemon juice, olives, and nuts. Toss everything together.
  6. Let the salad cool off for sat least 10 minutes or longer (you don’t want the cheese to melt). Add the cheese, fresh herbs, and a generous amount of cracked pepper. Incorporate into the salad.

  7. Taste. Add salt if needed.
  8. If the pasta seems dry, add some of the reserved pasta water or a little more olive oil, but be careful not to make it too oily or wet.

Eat it now, refrigerate and eat it later, take it to a party and share with friends. It's great hot, at room temperature, or cold.
Kitchen Notes

Quickie Preserved Lemons - You can buy preserved lemons or make them. I make a pint each fall and it lasts all year. However, if I run out before my new batch is ready, I make a quickie preserved lemon. It’s not the same as the real thing, but it works in a pinch. You do need to make it the day before.



Preserved Lemons in less than 24 hoursLemon peel becomes preserved lemons overnight







Piñon nuts – Piñon nuts (pine nuts), are quite expensive, but worth the cost IMO.  However, there are substitutions. The best one is pumpkin seed and next, sunflower seeds. Chopped almonds also work. Whichever you use, be sure to toast them. Walnuts absolutely do NOT work, and pecans (my favorite of all nuts) are just O.K.


Fresh herbs - Fresh basil with pasta is best, but there are other fresh herbs that work well. Fresh basil, mint, parsley, and thyme all work well. You could use them solo or as a blend. Whatever you have or whatever you like.


Onion and Bell Peppers - If you are making this for a large group, use a large onion and large bell pepper to make a bigger batch. You get plenty of cooked orzo from a 12 ounce bag, so a little extra on any or all of the veggies certainly won’t hurt this salad.


Additional Vegetables - Any of these vegetables or vegetable combinations work:  chopped artichoke hearts with 1/2 pound of sauteed mushrooms. Lightly cooked broccoli, asparagus, corn, or wilted greens such as spinach or Swiss chard are also nice.


Feta - The feta or cheese is optional, but is a nice addition.



Making a meal out of this salad:

As I mentioned earlier, you can make a meal out of this pasta salad by adding a little protein. Here are some suggestions for adding more protein (for 2):

Shrimp: Season ½ pound of raw, peeled and deveined shrimp with ½ tsp. Creole seasoning (or any spicy seasoning blend). Sauté in 1 Tbsp. butter for 3 minutes. Pour over two servings of pasta.

Chicken: If you have some leftover chicken, just chop it up and toss into the salad. If you don’t, then slice up an uncooked chicken breast, and prepare it the same way I prepare the shrimp.

Leftover Grilled Steak: Sliced the steak. Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat, and QUICKLY reheat the steak in the hot oil. Place the steak beside or on top of the salad and top with the oil.

Vegetarian (Egg omelet): Whisk 3 eggs with ¼ cup milk, a little salt and pepper, and some fresh basil (or tarragon or thyme). Add ½ Tbsp. butter to a medium size skillet over medium-low heat. When the foam subsides, add the eggs and cook over medium-low heat until almost set. When the omelet has set enough to flip, flip it and let it finish cooking. Cut the omelet into strips and gentle stir into salad or just lay on top.

O.K. – I’ll stop here, because there’s 101 other variations for this recipe and I could go on and on.  Hope you give this salad a try.  If you do, please let me know how it turns out.

If you like this Lemony Orzo Pasta Salad here are a couple more pasta dishes with preserved lemon that you’ll enjoy.

Pasta with Broccolini, Leeks and Preserved Lemon

Capellini with Garlic, Lemon and Egg



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36 Responses to “Pasta Salad for Parties, Potlucks, and Picnics”

  1. Mark Dursteler December 29, 2016 at 4:02 am #

    I’ve been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this blog. Thank you, I’ll try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your web site?

  2. Jill T November 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

    I just made this salad. I had most of the ingredients available. I had been looking for a recipe to use the preserved lemons I had just purchased and was anxious to use.
    This recipe is a keeper, it is adaptable in so many ways.
    The only thing I did differently, not part of the recipe, was to add a tiny bit of anchovy after sauteing the vegetables and garlic, I let it go for no more than a minute or so.
    I had left over rotisserie chicken which I added to my serving.
    It is very tasty, it is a keeper and I will definitely make it again.

    • mj November 15, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

      Jill, Thanks SO MUCH for your comment! Glad you enjoyed the recipe and were successful in adapting it to your tastes and ingredients. It is a keeper isn’t it? 🙂 I think we make it different every time. Thanks for sharing your adaptation.

  3. Su Anne Armstrong December 10, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

    Artichoke hearts are a wonderful addition to this pasta salad. It is one of a very few recipes where I can use whole wheat pasta and Ted doesn’t notice. We had it first with seared Salmon fillets and then with sautéed shrimp. Outrageously good with both. Thank you, thank you.

    • mj December 13, 2015 at 7:02 pm #

      Totally agree about the artichokes! I hardly ever leave them out. I’ve never used whole wheat pasta. Bobby never been a big fan of ww pasta either. I’ll have to try it in this recipe. Thanks for the heads up. 🙂 It does go great with seafood doesn’t it? Thanks so much for your comments!

  4. Adelina Priddis September 1, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    I can’t resist once you added in the shrimp! Thank you for sharing on Foodie Friday

  5. Deb@CookingOnTheFrontBurner August 30, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    Saw this on Food Friday – my 2 favorites – lemon and orzo! Pinned!

    • mj August 30, 2013 at 9:47 am #

      Thanks for stopping by Deb!

  6. Javelin Warrior July 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    I love orzo salads – there’s something about the tiny grains of pasta and the way they cling to everything else that’s just so satisfying. And the lemon with olives sounds delicious. I could definitely see making this with some roasted shrimp or grilled steak…

    • mj July 12, 2013 at 9:47 am #

      Thanks Mark! This salad is definitely a winner. I always take it to potlucks and it’s a big hit!

  7. Jaime @ Mom's Test Kitchen September 5, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    This looks really good! I’ve never actually tried orzo before! Thanks so much for linking to Mom’s Test Meal Mondays!

    • mj September 18, 2012 at 8:29 am #

      Thanks Jaime! I love making pasta salads with orzo! It blends right in with all of the other ingredients and the salad isn’t heavy as some pasta salads tend to be.

  8. Lori Lynn August 31, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Sounds like an awesome recipe.
    Great for an outdoor picnic…

  9. Debbie @ Easy Natural Food July 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Sounds super duper tasty, and I’m a huge kalmata olive fan! Love the Greek/Mediterranean flavors in this salad. Thanks for sharing this with Summer Salad Sundays, look forward to seeing you again soon!

  10. April @ The 21st Century Housewife January 31, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    What a fabulous go to recipe! I love that you have tried and tested so many variations too. This is such a useful and delicious post!! Thank you for sharing it with the Gallery of Favorites.

  11. Beth @ Aunt B's Kitchen January 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    This looks wonderful! I’ve pinned it. Hope that’s okay with you. 🙂

  12. Alea Milham January 28, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    Your lemony orzo salad looks lovely and delicious! We often enjoy having pasta salad for lunch. i like it because I can make it ahead and have it waiting in the fridge. Thanks for sharing this recipe with the Gallery.

  13. Elsa January 28, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Looks lovely! I just told my husband this morning that I need to make something with my orzo pasta. 🙂

  14. German Mama October 28, 2011 at 7:04 am #

    This looks so yummy. I love pasta salads that are not drenched in mayonnaise.

  15. The Mistress of Spices July 25, 2011 at 4:08 am #

    Lovely! Actually I have a BBQ to go to this weekend and was thinking of making something along this line. Maybe I will use this recipe! I love the addition of the preserved lemon juice…very intriguing!

    • mj July 25, 2011 at 8:53 am #

      I do hope you try it! It’s a great salad and is great for parties! Thank you for your comments!

  16. mj July 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    Thank y’all for your comments and for dropping by! Hope to see you again soon.

  17. Joanne July 12, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Mmmm i love orzo!!! This looks delicious!

  18. Janet July 8, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Mmmmm, looks great. Can’t wait to try it (and I’ll report, too). Love the preserved lemons recipe (and the short cut … always helpful), but what else do you use preserved lemons in?

    • mj July 8, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

      Preserved lemons are actually one of my favorite condiments. I use them in roast chicken, braised chicken, several pasta dishes, lemon rice and risotto, and in salads. You can use them like you use capers. Hope you enjoy!

  19. Carolyn Jung July 2, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Summer is made for orzo salads. The slender, tiny, rice-shaped pasta makes it so that you get a forkful of everything in one glorious bite.

  20. The Farmers Wife June 30, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    Oh I just adore this recipe! So fresh and delicious, the perfect pasta salad for a hot summer day. And all the veggies in it add such a beautiful color to the dish… YUM!

    • mj June 30, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

      Thank you!

  21. mj June 30, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Thanks for the nice comments Kelly! I hope you make the preserved lemons. Those are my MOST favorite condiment. A little goes a long way and they add such a freshness to any dish. I look forward to to trying some of your recipes.

  22. Kelly June 30, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Ooo this looks absolutely delicious and so healthy! I learned something new with the preserved lemons, love it! Great blog you have here and so glad to be your newest follower! 🙂

  23. sally June 29, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your quickie preserved lemon recipe. I’ve never made preserved lemons and would love to hear how you make your pints of lemons. Your orzo salad also sounds great!

    • mj June 29, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

      Sally – A recipe for preserved lemons will be coming soon! I need to make a new batch and get a picture. The quickie recipe really doesn’t have time to “preserve” the zest in just 30 minutes, but it’s still better than just zest and juice. If you could let it sit overnight, it would be closer to the real thing.


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