Keep quick-cooking orzo pasta in stock to pull off dinner on-the-quick. This versatile pasta can be used in all kinds of recipes, including salads, casseroles, and orzo soup. The key to perfect al dente doneness is in knowing how long to cook orzo. We'll cover that and share other orzo pointers.
Orzo is a pantry staple for many, but if you're new to cooking with the tiny pasta that looks like large rice, start by finding it in the pasta aisle of your grocery store. It usually comes in a small box and can even be found gluten-free. Then get ready to start buying on a regular basis when you realize how easy it makes weeknight cooking for your family. Most packages come with instructions on how to cook the pasta. These directions will suggest cooking times specifically for that manufacturer's product; however, most brands cook in about 10 minutes.
How to Cook Orzo
Use these general cooking instructions for four (¾-cup) servings of orzo:
- In a large saucepan bring 3 quarts lightly salted water to boiling. No need to add cooking oil to the pasta water; adding oil prevents sauces and seasonings from adhering to the orzo.
- Add 8 ounces (about 1¼ cup) 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 (Again, this is best if you're not adding a sauce as the fat prevents sauces from clinging, but it's better than dealing with a brick of cooked orzo!). Cover the pasta and let it stand no more than 15 minutes.
Test Kitchen 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.
How to Serve Orzo
After cooking, orzo may be served as-is, like any pasta. Season it to taste with salt and pepper and serve. This simple presentation works best when serving orzo alongside a main dish with sauce.
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
How to Make an Orzo Salad
Orzo salad can be hearty enough to be a meal 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 4 to 24 hours. Stir gently before serving.
How to Make Orzo Soup
Like rice and other pastas, orzo makes a filling addition to soups and works especially well in broth-based soups. Stir in ½ cup dried orzo for every 6 cups broth or other liquid in the soup. Add the orzo about 10 minutes before the end of cooking time (or ready to serve), and cook until the orzo is tender.
What Is Orzo?
Orzo is the Italian word for barley. However, it's not made from barley at all, but rather orzo is made from semolina, a course-ground flour made from durum wheat. And while it originally came from Italy, this tiny pasta (reminiscent of slivered almonds or rice) is commonly found in Greek and other Mediterranean dishes. Lucky for you, orzo cooks up in about half the time of rice, making it a speedy standby to have on hand to add heartiness to meals. In some markets (especially Italian or Mediterranean shops), you might see orzo sold as rosamarina.