Easy Cold Asparagus Orzo Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette

Your family is going to love this Easy Cold Asparagus Orzo Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette! A perfectly versatile Spring and early summer side dish featuring the season’s first vegetables complemented by a bright and tangy vinaigrette. It’s perfect for a weeknight dinner or to bring to your next backyard picnic.

You might also want to check out another favorite side dish of mine – Simple Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Orange-Mustard Vinaigrette.

An overhead picture of a white serving bowl with asparagus orzo salad next to 3 plates filled with the asparagus salad, along with lemon wedges and a block of parmesan cheese.

I always get incredibly excited when a new season is about to begin. For many, it’s about the weather, and it is for me to some degree, too, as I live in the north, but even more-so it’s about the new vegetables, fruits and herbs that will be arriving.

After a long winter of stews and braised dishes full of earthy flavors, the thought of green bright things is beyond exciting!

I love this pasta salad because it’s a complete complement to whatever else you might be preparing for dinner. It would be lovely served with something you might be throwing on the grill – chicken, salmon, whitefish, prawns, or even a steak. The tanginess of the vinaigrette is a perfect counterpart for rich meat or fatty fish.


What you’ll love about this recipe:


  • BRIGHT FLAVORS – Spring is finally here – the season’s first asparagus and peas, tangy lemons, and fresh herbs – all combined for a great side dish.
  • COMPLETE SIDE DISH – No need to think about making a separate starch and separate vegetables. This pasta salad contains everything in one dish.
  • TRANSPORTS WELL – This is a perfect side dish to bring to a spring picnic or early summer barbecue. It goes well with almost anything!

Recipe ingredients

You’ll need the following ingredients to make this awesome Asparagus and Pea Orzo Salad:

An overhead photo of all of the ingredients required for the recipe on a sheet pan: asparagus, shallot, peas, parmesan, mint, parsley, lemons, garlic, honey, Dijon mustard, and orzo pasta.

Ingredient Notes

Asparagus – Try to use asparagus that is thicker in size for this recipe. Because the asparagus is cut into coins, it’s better to not use the very thin asparagus, also known as pencil asparagus.

Peas – I used frozen peas in this recipe for quick weeknight cooking, but you can also use fresh English peas when they are available. Please note that fresh peas will require a slightly longer cooking time than frozen peas. I would recommend adding fresh peas to the cooking orzo 1-2 minutes before you add the asparagus.

Mint – You can change up the fresh herbs in this recipe if you like, but mint is a classic flavor pairing with peas, and really does a fantastic job bringing brightness to the dish and evoking flavors of Spring.


How to make Cold Asparagus Orzo Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette: STEP BY STEP

Be sure to check out the full recipe and ingredient list in the recipe card below

Steps 1 & 2:

First, bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil.

Then, you will need to remove the woody bottoms of the asparagus spears. To find the natural breaking point, you can bend the spears and they will snap. You can do this to the whole bunch individually, or you can use one as a guide and cut the rest accordingly.

Next, you will cut the asparagus crosswise into 1/4 inch coins.

A cutting board with asparagus spears showing the woody ends removed.
A cutting board with asparagus spears being cut crosswise into 1/4 inch coins.

Steps 3 & 4:

Chop the mint and parsley and set aside.

When the water has come to a boil, add the orzo and cook according to the package directions.

A cutting board and knife with a pile of chopped mint and a pile of chopped parsley.
A pot of boiling water on the stove with a box of orzo pasta being added.

Steps 5 & 6:

While the orzo is cooking, begin making the vinaigrette by finely dicing the shallot and garlic.

(Optional step) Add a large pinch of kosher salt on top of the garlic. Then, press the side of your knife down onto it and pull it toward you. The salt will act as an abrasive and break down the garlic, so that it becomes a paste. This is nice in a vinaigrette because you have the bold flavor of the garlic, but no pieces to bite into.

A cutting board with a pile of chopped shallots and a pile of chopped garlic next to 4 lemons.
A cutting board with a pile of chopped shallots and a small pile of garlic and salt being pasted together, next to 4 lemons.

Steps 7 & 8:

One minute BEFORE the orzo is done, add the asparagus coins and peas to the cooking water.

Next, drain everything in a colander and rinse with cold water to rinse off the starch and stop the cooking process.

Asparagus coins and peas being added to a simmering pot of orzo on the stove.
Orzo, asparagus and peas being drained in a colander with cold water running to stop the cooking process.

Steps 9 & 10:

Finish the vinaigrette by adding the shallot, pasted garlic, zest and juice of lemons, Dijon, honey, olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper and whisking well. Set aside.

Transfer the orzo, asparagus and peas to a serving bowl and add the vinaigrette, mint and parsley, and stir to combine everything.

A cutting board with a bowl and whisk combining the ingredients for the vinaigrette.
A white serving bowl with the dressed orzo asparagus salad, garnished with mint and parsley.

Chef Notes & Tips

  • Don’t overcook the pasta! Overcooked pasta is a drag anytime, but in a pasta salad, it’s especially bad. Be sure to cook the pasta al dente – the pasta should still have a little bite to it. Remember, when you drain it, it will continue to cook until you’ve rinsed it with enough cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • Be sure to add the asparagus and peas 1 minute before draining. This is important because we’re looking for crisp-tender vegetables to go with our al dente pasta. We specifically cut the asparagus to the same size as the peas and the pasta – so it’s crucial to follow this greatly reduced cooking time for optimal results.
  • Paste the garlic for a superior vinaigrette. By adding kosher salt, as an abrasive, to the garlic and pressing the side of your chef’s knife down while pulling it to you, and repeating this several times, you end up creating a garlic paste. This is particularly nice in a vinaigrette because you never have to bit into a piece of garlic in the finished dish. It’s an optional step, but a nice touch.
  • Taste the vinaigrette and adjust seasoning to your taste! The size of your lemons may differ from mine, as might the amount of juice contained in the lemons. If the vinaigrette is too tangy for you, add a touch more honey to take the edge off. Prefer more parmesan? Feel free to add more. The same goes for the Dijon if you prefer a stronger flavor. This is the fun of vinaigrettes – you can play with the flavor profiles endlessly!

Storage & Reheating

Storage: Store this in an airtight container for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Reheating: I would not recommend heating this pasta salad. It is meant to be eaten cold.

Freezing: I would not recommend freezing this cold asparagus orzo salad, as the texture will be compromised.


Did you know?

When making a vinaigrette, you should always add your salt to the acid and whisk it to dissolve BEFORE you add the oil. This allows you to fully taste the seasoning in the finished sauce and provides a much less gritty texture.


A white serving bowl on an orange floral tablecloth containing the cold asparagus orzo salad with lemon-parmesan vinaigrette.

Additions & Substitutions

ADDITIONS

Chives or green onions: You could add thinly sliced chives or green onions to the finished dish.

Ramps: You could add thin slices of the top green parts to the finished dish for a punchy onion flavor.

SUBSTITUTIONS

White balsamic vinegar: You could substitute the lemon juice with white balsamic vinegar or champagne vinegar – something on the lighter side. I would still add lemon zest to keep the bright lemon flavor.

Orange zest and juice: You could also substitute some of the lemon juice and zest for orange juice and zest for a less tangy flavor.

Fresh English peas: You can absolutely substitute fresh peas in this dish – just note that they will need to cook longer than the asparagus.


FAQs

I love this dish because it’s sophisticated enough to serve alongside delicately flavored seafood, but also bright and tangy enough to serve with rich grilled poultry, pork and beef.

You absolutely can. It’s meant to be served chilled or even room temperature, which provides you with so much flexibility. If you are indeed making it ahead of time, I wouldn’t combine the vinaigrette with the orzo and vegetables until the day you intend to serve it. If you are concerned about the orzo sticking together while it is undressed, you can toss it with a little olive oil. Store all components in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Simply put, orzo is rice-shaped pasta. There’s really nothing more to it! There is no ratio of water that you need to know to cook it. It is cooked exactly the same way that all other pasta is cooked – in well salted boiling water until al dente.

You can absolutely make this gluten free by substituting a gluten-free orzo like this one. There are also other grain-free alternatives – but please note that cook times will vary a fair amount among these different products, and the taste may be different too.


I hope you love this EASY Cold Asparagus Orzo Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette! If you make it, be sure to leave a rating so I know how you liked it!

A white serving bowl with cold asparagus orzo salad on a white countertop.

Cold Asparagus Orzo Salad with Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Your family is going to love this Easy Cold Asparagus Orzo Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette! A perfectly versatile Spring and early summer side dish featuring the season's first vegetables complemented by a bright and tangy vinaigrette. It's perfect for a weeknight dinner or to bring to your next backyard picnic.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8
Calories 415 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 lb orzo pasta
  • 10 oz peas (frozen or fresh *see notes)
  • 1/4 cup mint (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup parsley (chopped)

Vinaigrette

  • 2 lemons (zest and juice)
  • 1 shallot (finely chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey (or more if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (grated)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Instructions
 

  • Bring a pot of well salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook it until it is al dente, or still has a little bite to it.
  • While the orzo is cooking, prep the asparagus by cutting off the bottom woody portion.  You can tell where this is by bending the lower portion of the spear – it will break at its natural point.  You can use this one as a guide, and cut the rest at the same point.  Next you’ll slice the spears crosswise into ¼ inch thick coins and set aside.
  • Next, you can make the vinaigrette by combining all of the ingredients in a bowl or a jar and whisk or shake really well, and then set aside.
  • About 1 minute before the orzo will be done, add the asparagus coins and the peas to the pot – this will be just enough time to blanch the vegetables.
  • Drain the pasta and vegetables in a colander and run cold water over everything to stop the cooking process.
  • When the pasta and vegetables are well drained and cool, transfer them to a serving bowl and add the vinaigrette and the mint and parsley and stir everything well to combine.  ENJOY!

Notes

  • If you are using fresh peas, they will need to cook longer than frozen peas.  Add them 1 minute BEFORE you add the asparagus – so 2 minutes before the orzo is done cooking.
  • Because lemons vary in size and the amount of juice they provide, feel free to adjust the honey in the vinaigrette to achieve the balance that suits your taste.  

Nutrition

Calories: 415kcalCarbohydrates: 56gProtein: 13gFat: 16gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 258mgPotassium: 404mgFiber: 6gSugar: 8gVitamin A: 970IUVitamin C: 35mgCalcium: 124mgIron: 3mg
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