Italian Rice or Orzo Salad

This entry is part 2 of 55 in the series Vegetarian

Italian Orzo Salad

Another name for this salad could be Kitchen Sink Rice! When you’ve got lots of vegetables in your refrigerator that need to be used, I look to this kind of recipe. You can add whatever ingredients that your family likes, from cold cuts to left over meats, from cauliflower to green beans. Because we love Italian foods, we tend to have cured meats and cheeses on hand. You can have this made and on the table in about 45 minutes or less if you have leftover rice to use! If you don’t have rice on hand or if your family is hungry and it will take too long to cook, make this with orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, or Israeli couscous. Both cook fairly quickly and work just as well as rice. This is also a perfect foil for whole grain products like brown and wild rice, bulgur, quinoa, or farro.

Tri-Color Orzo Pasta

If you want a vegetarian side dish or entree, leave out the meats and use water or vegetable stock. Increase the amount of vegetables and sauté them for a few minutes to soften slightly. This can be the perfect side dish for grilled or roasted meats and poultry.

Do you always serve your meals in the same dishes, over and over? Have you ever considered trying different containers? What about small serving bowls instead of dinner plates? Ramekins, in bright colors, add a lot of life to an otherwise boring table. Hollow out large vegetables and use them instead of bowls. A red onion or purple cabbage make stunning containers. How about buying a ceramic Chinese food container as a fun and whimsical serving dish? Or you can line a beautiful wooden box with a layer of plastic wrap (just on the bottom), top with a large lettuce leaf and put a scoop of this rice salad in the center. The wood adds a rustic quality that offsets the delicate nature of the lettuce and rice. You can replace normal table clothes with old quilts, unusual materials, even burlap. Use pieces of slate, slabs of lumber, or ceramic tiles instead of placemats. Get creative with unusual materials and design a table that your family and guests will be talking about for years!

Cubed Cured Meats

Jane’s Tips and Hints:

When cooking rice, it is easy for it to turn out mushy and sticky. To avoid this don’t over cook the rice and let it sit at least 10 minutes after you take it off the heat to rest. Then, using two forks and NOT a spoon, fluff the rice grains to separate them.

Kitchen Skill:

This is a great recipe to practice your knife skills. There are lots of ingredients to chop, slice, and mince. Remember to keep the tip of the knife on the board as you work, diminishing your chances of cutting yourself. I usually hold the tip of the knife down with the palm of one hand while I move the knife in an arc with the other hand. Stop occasionally to gather your ingredients back into a pile, and then continue chopping.



Italian Rice or Orzo Salad

Jane Evans Bonacci ©1999

Yield: 4 servings


This is a perfect dish to serve at a BBQ or picnic. And because you can serve it at room temperature, it travels beautifully. This is a hearty salad that that makes a complete meal with just a simple green salad. If you make it with the rice it is gluten-free.



1 tbsp olive oil

3/4 cup white, brown, or wild rice or a blended mix, couscous, or orzo

1 to 2 tsp salt

1 tsp turmeric (if you want a beautiful yellow rice)

Boiling water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp minced fresh parsley

1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 lb ham, diced (cotto or tasso are also nice here) 1/4 lb salami or cooked sausage, sliced thickly and then cubed

1/4 lb fresh mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or Swiss cheese, diced

1/4 cup pitted, sliced black olives

2 to 3 pepperoncini, stemmed, seeded, and diced, optional

1 roasted bell pepper, diced

3 tbsp cooked peas

1/4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed

3 plum tomatoes, diced

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

Julienne of fresh basil leaves

Parmesan cheese

Minced chives or green onions



In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the rice and stir to coat all grains with the oil. Cook about 2 minutes or until the rice loses its opacity. Add enough boiling water or stock to cover by at least 2 inches. Stir in salt and turmeric. Bring to a boil and cook according to package directions, checking frequently until it is cooked al dente. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking and let it drain in a colander. Cool completely, tossing with two forks occasionally to break up grains.


Meanwhile, assemble the remaining ingredients. Once the rice has cooled, combine everything except the Parmesan in a large bowl and toss to thoroughly combine. Sprinkle with Parmesan to taste.


Chill the salad in the refrigerator. Set out on the counter about 20 minutes before serving to take some of the chill off of it. Serve cold or at room temperature. Garnish with basil and green onions and pass additional Parmesan at the table.



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