We don’t celebrate orzo enough, but its adorable, small size and shape makes it hardly feel like pasta. It can trick you into believing it’s a grain, or chewy kind of rice, which is fairly benign as far as treachery goes. Don’t think about it too much and just enjoy it.
The transmutability of orzo is what makes it so useful. Like its little brother, ditalini, it maintains its strength in soups, never going limp. Unlike ditalini, its shape makes it an ideal base for salads, and a real contender for stuffing, whether the thing being stuffed is a pepper, tomato or artichoke.
Treat orzo like any other pasta
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A bowl of orzo, anointed simply with butter, parmesan, and salt is a treat you probably haven’t reached for in a while. Double down on the cheese, and you’ve got a new alternative to macaroni.
I’d argue that the better plan is to use orzo in soups. Something about the small shape makes it possible for the pasta to keep its bite, even in lots of liquid, and yet it’s not a mouthful. It just seems to melt into the soup with a silky mouthfeel. My current obsession is a summer avgolemono, a Greek soup I adore that rarely appears on menus in my town. It’s a simple, bright and smooth chicken soup made with lemon and parsley.
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I like Better than Bouillon)
- 1 egg
- One handful of fresh parsley or 2 tbsp of dried parsley
- 1/3 cup of lemon juice
- 1/2 cup of orzo
- Optional: 1 boneless, skinless chicken thigh
Slice the chicken thigh into long thin strips, but cut any that are longer than 2 inches in half. Set aside.
Get the stock on the stovetop, bring it to a simmer, and add orzo. Simmer until orzo is al dente, about 8 minutes, but taste to check.
While this is happening, whisk the eggs and lemon juice in another bowl. When the orzo is ready, slowly add a tablespoon of hot broth to the eggs and lemon while whisking briskly. Continue this until 8 tablespoons of broth have been added. Now add a whole ladle’s worth of soup (about a cup), while still whisking. By now, the egg and lemon is tempered and ready to be added to the soup.
Stirring the soup in the pot, add the egg and lemon mixture back to the pot, and allow it to come to a simmer while you stir. Continuing to stir, add the chicken, and stir to make sure the chicken doesn’t clump.
Allow the soup to simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the soup has thickened (about 6 minutes). Turn off the heat, sprinkle chopped parsley over the top, and serve with salt and pepper.
Treat orzo like a grain
This week I remembered just how damn amazing a simple cold orzo salad could be by tossing it with chopped tomato, pickled red onion, feta and a healthy amount of fresh cilantro. I found myself returning to the fridge all day to grab additional bites of the salad, which was remarkably simple but satisfying.
Cold orzo salad
- 2 cups of orzo
- ½ cup of feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 large slicing tomato, rough chopped
- ¼ cup of chopped pickled onions (you can substitute fresh red onion)
- 1 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped, including stems
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper.
Cook the orzo in salted water until tender, then drain, and rinse with cold water, making sure to really shake off the excess water in the strainer. Add the orzo to a large bowl.
Add the feta, tomato, onions and cilantro and mix well.
Add the olive oil and vinegar and mix well, followed by salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature. Keeps well in the fridge for five days.
Treat orzo like rice
Unless it’s Thanksgiving, I lean towards rice-based stuffing, whether it’s for Cornish hens or vegetables. The stuffing in this stuffed tomato has a body that feels more like risotto than the stuff you make with stale bread.
- Four large slicing tomatoes or large bell peppers (you can use almost any vegetable, but these lend themselves naturally as vehicles to stuffing).
- ¾ cup orzo
- 2 cups of assorted mushrooms, whichever you like or can find
- Mushroom or vegetable stock (Again, Better than Bouillon)
- 1 shallot, diced
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Slice or rough chop the mushrooms. Melt the butter in a sauté pan, add your shallot, and allow it to carmelize.
Add the mushrooms and sauté them until they are browned and the water has fully evaporated.
Add orzo, and move it around in the pan so that every piece gets coated in butter. Add ½ cup of stock and allow the mixture to come to a simmer. From here on out, treat it like risotto, adding stock as needed for the next 15 minutes, until the orzo is cooked fully, taste testing every 5 minutes or so.
Add most of the parmesan, keeping a few tablespoons in reserve, stir the cheese in, and remove from heat. Allow the mixture to cool on the counter until it’s cool enough to work with.
Slice the tops off of your tomatoes, then take the tiniest slice off the bottom of each, just enough so that it will stand up straight and not roll around. Use a melon baller or spoon to scoop out the inside of the tomato. Salt and pepper the inside of the tomatoes.
Place the tomato guts on a cutting board and chop ‘em up to make a loose mixture, then add to the orzo. Once the orzo is cool enough to work with, use a spoon to loosely fill the tomatoes to the top. Drizzle olive oil over the top, add salt and pepper and a dash of the parmesan, and then broil for five minutes—just enough for the top to get toasty—then serve.