What Is Orzo?

If you’ve never heard of orzo, chances are that you are not alone. But believe it or not, it’s a type of food, though it may seem unlikely for those who have never come across the word. Honestly, the name itself doesn’t sound like it belongs on a menu.

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So, what is orzo?

In short, orzo is a rice-shaped pasta that’s made from durum wheat semolina flour. It’s a staple in traditional Italian cooking and can be found in many Italian pasta dishes. It is often confused with couscous, but the two are actually quite different.

History of Orzo Pasta

The word orzo is derived from the Italian word for barley since it resembles a small grain of barley. The pasta is quite small, in fact, it falls under the category of “little pasta,” which the Italians call pastina.

The pasta originated in Italy and has been a staple in Italian cooking ever since. It was often made with semolina flour, water, and olive oil for extra flavor.

Today, orzo is still made with durum wheat semolina but also includes other ingredients, such as veggies for color and flavor. The gluten-free version of this pasta shape is made from rice, corn, or cassava.

Orzo pasta is not only used in Italian cuisine; it’s also used in Mediterranean cuisine and in Middle Eastern dishes like rice pilaf and Tabbouleh.

How to Cook Orzo Pasta

Creamy Garlic and parmesan orzo

Orzo is a very versatile pasta that can be used in both hot and cold dishes. It can be served as a side dish or added to soups, stews, stir-fries, or even baked into casseroles.

You can also use it for macaroni salads and other cold salads. Orzo is also great for making risotto because it cooks faster than rice does.

There are several different ways you can cook orzo pasta, depending on the dish you want to make. You can cook it in a pot of boiling water until al dente, which should take about 10 minutes. You can then season it with salt and pepper and add a sauce or any other ingredients.

You can also cook orzo pasta in a saucepan with broth and other ingredients to make a risotto dish. The cooking time for risotto depends on the recipe you’re using, but most call for about 15 minutes of simmering before serving.

Orzo pasta can also be used in casseroles and other baked dishes. It takes a few minutes to bake orzo pasta in the oven, but you may need to first add some liquid or broth to keep it moist.

Generally, cooking orzo is easy and simple. You can use the pasta in many different recipes, and it’s a great food option when you need something healthy and quick to prepare.

How to Use Orzo in Recipes

Chicken Orzo Salad

Here are a few different ways you can use orzo in recipes.


If you’re looking for a simple orzo recipe that can be made quickly, try orzo soup. You can make a rich and tasty orzo soup using chicken broth or vegetable broth as a base and add spices, vegetables, and herbs for additional flavor.

Baked Dishes

Orzo makes a great addition to baked dishes such as lasagna or casseroles. You can also add it to meatloaf recipes for extra texture.

You could try making an orzo casserole with ground beef, parmesan cheese, and mushrooms to make a delicious meat and cheese casserole.


To make an orzo pasta salad, you can use vinegar or lemon juice as a dressing. You could also add vegetables and herbs, such as sun-dried tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh basil, for extra texture and flavor.

Pasta salads, unlike some other types of salads, can be eaten as a main dish.

Rice Dishes

One of the most popular rice dishes in Italy is Rissotto, which is traditionally made with Arborio rice and white wine. You can use orzo instead of Arborio rice to make an easy, delicious risotto dish that is ready in just 20 minutes.

You can add onions, peppers, mushrooms, and fresh thyme to make a tasty vegetarian option. Or you can add chicken or shrimp for a more filling dish.

Pasta Dishes

You can use orzo pasta as a substitute for regular pasta to make a variety of dishes. You can use orzo pasta to make lasagna, macaroni and cheese, baked ziti, and spaghetti with meatballs. Or make a simple pasta dish with melted butter and chicken broth.

Side Dishes

You can use orzo to make a flavorful side dish that is ready in just 15 minutes. You can cook the orzo with butter, garlic, and herbs for an easy, delicious side dish that goes well with chicken and fish dishes.


Orzo is also a great addition to many desserts. You can use orzo to make a delicious pudding that is made with milk, sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Or add orzo to your cheesecake recipe or your favorite fruit salad.

Orzo Pasta Nutrition Information

Portion of orzo pasta
A serving of dried orzo pasta on a white background.

As stated earlier, orzo is made of semolina flour. So for those who might not know, this flour is made from durum wheat.

This means that orzo is high in protein and carbohydrates. It also contains some B vitamins, which are important for the body’s energy production and metabolism.

In addition, orzo is rich in magnesium, selenium, and phosphorous. It is also a good source of fiber, which aids digestion and helps to prevent constipation.

Orzo is low in fat and contains no cholesterol. So, if you are looking for a healthy alternative to rice, then orzo is the way to go.

It’s also important to note that orzo is not gluten-free. That means that people who are gluten intolerant should not eat orzo pasta made of durum wheat. However, gluten-free orzo pasta is available and is a good option for those who need to avoid gluten.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know what orzo is, how it’s cooked, and what it’s good for, you should have a better understanding of this Italian pasta. It’s easy to prepare and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

You may also want to try making your own orzo pasta at home and see how it compares to store-bought orzo. If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to rice or pasta, then orzo may be the right choice for your diet.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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