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Outstanding Orzo

Don’t be fooled by its rice-like stature; orzo stands up perfectly in many dishes, from soups and salads to the main course. Enjoy these orzo ideas.

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 The name in Italian means barley because that’s what it was originally made from.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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