How to Cook Orzo

Quick-cooking orzo is a must-have staple for busy families. Here's how to cook it in side dishes, soups, salads, and more.

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What Is Orzo?

Orzo is the Italian word for barley. However, it's not made from barley at all, but rather from semolina, a course-ground flour made from durum wheat. With its shape reminiscent of slivered almonds, orzo cooks up in about half the time of rice, making it a speedy standby to have on hand to add heartiness to meals. We'll show you how to cook orzo for side dishes and in salads and soups. Then we'll point the way to other recipes that call on orzo, including main dishes.

Tip: In some markets, you might see orzo sold as rosamarina.

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How to Cook Orzo

Most packages of orzo come with instructions for cooking it. These directions will suggest cooking times specifically for that manufacturer's product; most brands cook in about 10 minutes. Here are general cooking instructions for four servings of orzo.

  • In a large saucepan bring 3 quarts lightly salted water to boiling. You do not need to add cooking oil to the pasta water; adding oil prevents sauces and seasonings from adhering to the orzo.
  • Add 8 ounces (1-1/2 cups) dried orzo. Boil the orzo about 10 minutes or until it has a firm, chewy texture, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking together.
  • Drain orzo in a colander and serve immediately.

Tip: Rinse the orzo only if it will be baked or served cool in a salad. Otherwise, do not rinse -- rinsing removesa light coating of starch that helps sauces and seasonings cling to the pasta.

Tip: For the best flavor and texture, serve the orzo immediately after cooking. However, if your orzo gets done before the rest of the meal, you can keep it warm by returning the drained cooked past to the warm cooking pan. Stir in a little butter or olive oil to prevent it from sticking together. Cover the pasta and let it stand no more than 15 minutes.

How to Serve Orzo

After cooking, orzo may be served "naked," like any pasta. Simply season it to taste with salt and pepper and serve. This simple presentation works best when serving orzo alongside a main dish with sauce and other ingredients.

If your main dish is more simple, you might want to doctor up the orzo a bit. Start by stirring in some butter or olive oil, then stir in one or more of the following.

  • Snipped fresh herbs such as chives, parsley, basil, or oregano
  • Fresh spinach leaves and lemon peel; stir with the hot cooked orzo until the leaves wilt slightly.
  • Thinly sliced green onions and/or finely chopped red sweet pepper
  • Snipped, drained oil-packed sundried tomatoes
  • Chopped black olives
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

How to Make an Orzo Salad

To transform orzo into a tasty and hearty base for a salad, follow these steps.

1. Cook, Rinse, and Drain the Orzo

  • Follow the package directions for cooking the orzo or use the instructions given above. 
  • Drain the orzo; rinse with cold water, then drain again.
  • Place the orzo in a large bowl.

2. Add Salad Ingredients

Here are a few ideas for fresh, colorful ingredients to add to the bowl.

  • Blanched sugar snap peas, asparagus, or broccoli
  • Onions, such as thinly sliced red onions or green onions
  • Chopped, drained marinated artichoke hearts
  • Sliced red or yellow cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Cheeses such as shredded Parmesan, crumbled feta, fresh mozzarella, goat cheese (chevre), or blue cheese
  • Torn salad greens such as spinach or arugula (stir greens into the salad after the chilling in sSep 4, just before serving).

3. Add the Dressing

Gently toss the orzo and salad ingredients with your favorite purchased vinaigrette (or make your own vinaigrette dressing).

4. Chill and Serve

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Chill for 4 to 24 hours. Stir gently before serving.

How to Add Orzo to Soups

Like rice and other pastas, orzo makes a hearty addition to soups and works especially well in broth-base (as opposed to cream-base) soups. Add about 1/2 cup dried orzo for each 6 cups broth or other liquid in the soup. Add the orzo 10 minutes before the end of cooking time, and cook until the orzo is tender.

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