How to Cook Orzo
Quick-cooking orzo pasta is a must-have staple for busy families. This versatile grain can be used for many different recipes, including orzo salad, chicken orzo, and orzo soup. To help you pick a way to try this yummy pasta, we're sharing some of our favorite orzo recipes and cooking tips so you can get it on your menu tonight!
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 orzo recipes, including main dishes.
Note: In some markets, you might see orzo sold as rosamarina.
Get the recipe: Orzo with Butternut Squash, Sage, and Bacon
How to Cook Orzo
Most packages will come with instructions for how to cook orzo pasta. These directions will suggest cooking times specifically for that manufacturer's product; however, 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. 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 and cooked pasta 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.
Tip: Rinse the orzo only if it will be baked or served cool in a salad. Otherwise, do not rinse—rinsing removes a light coating of starch that helps sauces and seasonings cling to the pasta.
Get the recipe: Carrot Orzotto
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 your orzo pasta 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, and oil-packed sundried tomatoes
- Chopped black olives
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Get the recipe: Herbed Chicken, Orzo, and Zucchini
How to Make an Orzo Salad
Orzo salad can be hearty enough to be a meal all on its own, or you can serve it alongside another main dish. 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 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 step 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.
Get the recipe: Grilled Vegetable and Orzo Salad
How to Make Orzo Soup
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. Stir in 1/2 cup dried orzo for every 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.
Get the recipe: Summer Squash Soup with Whole Wheat Orzo
Orzo Recipes to Try
If you've never cooked orzo before, the time to try it is now! Use our tips from above to help you make these easy orzo recipes, from chicken orzo to orzo salad.