An Ode To Orzo, An Underrated Pasta Shape

It may not be as hip as amaranth or teff, and it’s certainly not one of the more fashionable pasta shapes, but orzo deserves a moment in the spotlight (and a place on your pantry shelf).

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Orzo is the Italian word for barley. Though it looks like rice, orzo is actually a type of pasta made from semolina, a coarsely ground flour made from durum wheat. Despite its tiny size, orzo is a heavy hitter in the kitchen. It cooks in half the time of rice, making it a great choice for busy families. It’s as good in herby pilafs and cold salads as it is tucked under crispy cutlets or nuzzled up to roasted seafood or vegetables. It’s also great in soups and stews, where it adds a little heft while maintaining a satisfying al dente texture. My favorite way to eat orzo is all by itself— piping hot with a little tomato sauce and a lot of butter and parmesan cheese.

Orzo can be boiled in water and drained like other pasta shapes. It can also be made in the style of risotto, where hot water or broth is gradually stirred into the dry pasta until a creamy texture is achieved. Or it can be baked, as in youvetsi, a traditional Greek casserole — orzo has deep roots across the Mediterranean, featuring in the cuisines of Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey, and Tunisia. Still, even in those countries, you’re more likely to have orzo as part of a long lunch at somebody’s grandmother’s house than see it on restaurant menus. That’s okay. Trends come and go, but orzo is forever.

To make orzo, bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil. It’s not necessary to add cooking oil to pasta water, as this will prevent sauces from adhering properly to the pasta. When water is boiling, add 1 cup of dried orzo to the water. Boil orzo for 7-10 minutes or until it has a chewy texture, stirring occasionally.

Drain orzo in a colander and serve immediately. If you plan to serve it later, run the orzo under very cold water for 1 minute to prevent overcooking. To reheat, return orzo to a cooking pan, stir in a pat of butter or oil, and heat on low. Once warmed, let stand for no longer than 15 minutes. 

Don’t want to wait to have orzo at somebody’s grandmother’s house? Learn more about orzo and all of our premium world pastas here.