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 The name in Italian means barley because that’s what it was originally made from.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:
- Lemon Couscous Salad
- Merguez and Grilled Bell Peppers Salad
- Southwestern Salad
- Shrimp Dinner
- Summer Squash Couscous with Sultanas, Pistachios and Mint
- Couscous with Nectarines and Peaches
Have you tried orzo? Got a favorite recipe? Let me know.