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 The name in Italian means barley because that’s what it was originally made from.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