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Outstanding Orzo

I was recently invited to join a friend for dinner at her home. Her extended Sicilian family arrived from Catania a few days prior and they were preparing a meal for all of us. How could I refuse?

Among the many courses we were served was a dish I will never forget: delicious orzo pasta prepared with sundried tomatoes, roasted garlic and eggplant, fresh basil, ricotta salata cheese and fragrant extra-virgin olive oil.

Are you familiar with orzo? While many Americans are pasta lovers, the beautiful little rice-like pasta known as orzo has largely been ignored. Orzo may look like rice but it’s actually made from hard durum semolina wheat, so it’s really a type of pasta. The name in Italian means barley because that’s what it was originally made from.

Don’t be fooled by its rice-like stature; orzo holds its shape beautifully and stands up perfectly in many dishes, including salads, main courses, soups and slow-simmered stews. It’s quick and easy to prepare — simply cook for 8 to 10 minutes in boiling water, just as you would your typical pasta. So the next time you’ve got pasta on your mind, try orzo. It makes a great substitute for many other pasta shapes and it’s also delicious as a stand-in for rice, naturally.

Take a look at these outstanding orzo ideas I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

  • Eat hot with olive oil, fresh spinach and parmesan or Romano cheese.
  • Add to soups and stews. This Chicken and Rice Soup is delicious made with orzo and so is our version of marvelous Italian Wedding Soup.
  • Make orzo pasta salad, Minted Orzo and Zucchini Salad and Warm Orzo salad with Broccoli and Tomatoes.
  • Make Rice Salad but use orzo instead.
  • Toss while hot with chopped tomatoes and baby arugula. Enjoy with or without cheese, chicken, shrimp, scallops or roasted pine nuts.
  • Bake into casserole dishes such as Tuna Noodle Casserole.
  • Make Spanish rice or your favorite rice pilaf recipe using orzo (in place of the rice).
  • Combine orzo and cheese using your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe.
  • Make green orzo by tossing with chopped parsley, chives, and green olives.
  • Make Risotto-style Orzo with Spring Veggies.
  • Serve as a side dish to roasted meats, fish or your choice of protein. Here’s an unforgettable Dried Mushroom-Crusted Lamb with Zucchini-Robiola Risotto. Serve it for your next dinner party.
  • Add cooked orzo to this Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salad.
  • Toss hot orzo with assorted greens such as spinach, chard, kale or baby bok choy. Enjoy with a sprinkling of cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Add some color, flavor and good nutrition with a boost of chopped fresh orange, fresh or roasted red or yellow bell peppers, grated carrots and/or sundried tomatoes.
  • Toss cooked orzo with fresh oregano, chopped tomatoes, kalamata olives, and feta cheese for a fabulous Greek-style feast.

For something fun and different, substitute orzo in these recipes that call for couscous:

Have you tried orzo? Got a favorite recipe? Let me know.

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NoRecipeRequired says …

Orzo does make a great side dish...it's so flexible and can be paired with just about anything. Here is a recipe for orzo with summer vegetables, that I served with a seared piece of halibut for the perfect light dinner http://www.noreciperequired.com/recipe/orzo-summer-vegetables

NoRecipeRequired says …

Orzo does make a great side dish...and it makes a great risotto. Here's a recipe for orzo risotto that is simple and easy. http://www.noreciperequired.com/recipe/orzo-risotto The orzo cooks much faster than arborio rice, so you can get one done in about half the time as normal.

Heidi says …

I have never tried orzo, sounds good. I am going to have to pick some up on my next shopping trip!

Linda Brooks says …

The Whole Foods Edamame Orzo Salad with lemon, red onion, mint and cilantro is just delicious. I wish they would make it more often. I think I have the recipe down, but I'm wondering - is there any way to get gluten free orzo? I can't seem to find it anywhere, and orzo pasta makers don't seem to exist.

Michelle says …

Try orzo, chickpeas, feta cheese and arugula with a splash of lemon juice, olive oil and chopped chives. So delicious, packed full of protein and you even get some veggies.

Carol says …

When will Whole Foods carry a gluten free orzo? There are suppliers out there, including Delallo, which Whole Foods already carries. Amazon offers the gluten free Delallo orzo but you have to buy 12 bags! Please help us gf-ers out here, Whole Foods.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CAROL - Our buying is done at the store/regional level. If it's a brand your local store already carries, they can possibly special order this for you as well. Check with them for details!

Lara says …

My fav salad is your greek orzo salad... I now live in a small town that's no where near your stores and I would love the recipe please :))) Thank you, Lara

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LARA - If this is something that was made in-house at your local store, reach out to them directly to see if they have a recipe to share!

Geiko says …

Whole Foods sells something called "vegetable orzo". Other than the colors, is there really a difference between it and regular orzo that you also sell?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@GEIKO - If this is made by a particular vendor, I would suggest reaching out to that vendor directly to see what the difference is. If I were to guess, I would assume that there are actual vegetables in the orzo ingredients.

Charlie says …

Love the beautiful and tasty black/white orzo! My vegetarian friends ask if it is colored with squid ink or is vegetarian? A similar imported product at a local speciality Italian shop did have squid ink.

deb willis says …

I am looking for a recipe to make spanish rice w/o using rice but using Orzo instead. Are there any recipes out there that you guy/gals know of? I am very interested in finding @ least 1 recipe for this substitution. Thanks to all for your time. I have given up on my search to find a recipe online myself. But all I kept getting were recipes for using rice no matter what I put in the header. Believe my I tried about 15 dffferent ways to ask the question but had NO LUCK:) Thanks again Deb