What is Orzo: A Friendly Guide to This Tasty Pasta

Orzo, a versatile and delightful Italian staple, resembles rice in shape and boasts the classic pasta taste. Popular in Mediterranean cuisine, this small oval pasta is often found in various soup, pasta dishes, and grain bowls, ensuring a gentle, pleasing bite.

Though its roots trace back to Italy, where it belongs to the “pastina” or little pasta, its appeal has spread across Europe and into countless kitchens. A must-have item for any pantry, orzo works wonderfully in an array of recipes, from traditional soups to creative Ina Garten-inspired dishes.

Chicken Orzo Salad

Key Takeaways

  • Orzo is a versatile rice-shaped pasta with roots in Italian cuisine.
  • Used in numerous dishes, orzo adds a pleasant toothsome texture.
  • It’s a pantry essential for Italian and Mediterranean-style cooking.

What Is Orzo Made From?

Orzo is created using semolina, a coarser flour with a golden hue, derived from durum wheat, known for its high gluten content. Don’t get misled – orzo isn’t a whole grain. However, you can find a whole-wheat variant for purchase.

Are There Other Names for Orzo?

You might be surprised to learn that orzo has different names in various countries. For instance, in Italy, this tiny pasta is often referred to as risi or rosini, indicating its rice-like appearance. Interestingly, the term “orzo” means barley in Italian. In the United States, the name orzo may have been chosen due to its resemblance to the barley grain.

While in Greece, you’ll find that orzo is called kritharaki. Just remember that orzo refers to caffè d’orzo, a grain beverage, in Italian cafés.

How to Cook Orzo

Cooking orzo is simple: bring a pot of salted water to a boil, then add the orzo. Cook it for about 8-10 minutes, or however long the package suggests, until it reaches the al dente stage. Drain the water using a colander like you would with other pasta types. For some extra flavor, mix in melted butter or olive oil before serving and topping with your preferred sauce.

If you’re making a salad with orzo, drizzle it with olive oil and fluff the pasta while it’s hot to prevent clumps. Then, let it cool and store it in the refrigerator. This method is perfect for a delightful pasta salad.

Another way to cook orzo is to use a ratio of two parts water to one part dried pasta. This method results in a creamier texture since all the starch remains, unlike when draining the water. Plus, it takes about half the time compared to making white rice. Try incorporating orzo into your rice dishes to create a mouthwatering pilaf.

Remember to always use a friendly tone, keep your language in English, and write in the second person (you, your, yours) perspective when discussing orzo recipes.

Discovering Orzo in Your Culinary Creations

Orzo, a versatile and delightful pasta, can be easily integrated into various dishes, from salads to warm, comforting plates. Keep in mind, one cup of dried orzo yields approximately two cups when cooked.

One option is to craft a faux risotto using orzo instead of the traditional arborio rice. This approach is more forgiving and reduces cooking time. With orzo, the creaminess remains intact, thanks to the pasta’s starchiness. Begin by following a standard risotto recipe, but replace the rice with orzo. Simmer and gradually add broth, stirring occasionally, until the orzo reaches your desired tenderness.

Incorporating orzo in soups is yet another possibility. To prevent overcooking or mushiness, add the pasta towards the end of the cooking process. Alternatively, cook it separately and mix it in while serving your soup.

Experiment with orzo by adding it to salads, pasta salads, or as a side dish. Play with ingredients such as lemon, spinach, feta, tomatoes, olive oil, parmesan, olives, and a variety of fresh herbs and seasonings. Create tempting orzo-based dishes by combining with colorful veggies, cheeses, nuts, and proteins like shrimp or lemon chicken.

Next time you’re preparing a dinner, remember that orzo offers an array of delectable options for salads, side dishes, and warm, satisfying meals.

What are Suitable Alternatives to Orzo?

If you need a replacement for orzo in a recipe and don’t have any, you can try other quick-cooking pastas like ditalini, pastina, or even stelline with its tiny star shape. Rice is another option; just keep in mind the varying cooking times or opt for boil-in-bag rice for a closer resemblance to orzo. For a similar texture, consider pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous), which consists of small toasted pasta balls that cook in about 10 minutes. These substitutes will help you continue with your recipe without compromising taste or texture.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Orzo Be Consumed by Gluten-Free Diets?

No, orzo is not gluten free, as it is made from wheat flour. People with gluten intolerance or celiac disease should avoid consuming orzo.

What is the Recommended Orzo Serving Size Per Person?

The general guideline for serving orzo is about 1/2 cup (approximately 100 grams) of dry orzo per person. This amount may vary depending on individual preferences and the dish being prepared.

How Can I Make Orzo at Home?

To make orzo from scratch, follow these steps:

  1. Combine 2 cups of all-purpose flour with a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl.
  2. Make a well in the center of the flour and add 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon of water.
  3. Mix the ingredients together until a dough forms.
  4. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic.
  5. Roll the dough out to a thin sheet and cut it into small, rice-like pieces.
  6. Allow the orzo to dry for a few hours before cooking or storing.

Is Orzo More Similar to Pasta or Rice?

Orzo is a type of pasta that is shaped to resemble rice. While it may look like rice, it is made from wheat flour just like other pasta.

What is the Right Way to Boil Orzo?

To boil orzo, follow these steps:

  1. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Add a pinch of salt.
  2. Add the desired amount of orzo to the boiling water.
  3. Stir occasionally to prevent the orzo from sticking together.
  4. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the orzo is al dente.
  5. Drain the orzo in a colander and serve as desired.

How Does Orzo Differ from Pasta Rice?

Although orzo and pasta rice may appear similar, there are some differences:

  • Orzo is made from wheat flour, while pasta rice is typically made from rice flour.
  • Orzo is a type of pasta, while pasta rice is a type of rice.
  • Orzo tends to have a slightly chewier texture compared to pasta rice, which has a softer, more delicate texture.
Chicken Orzo Salad

What is Orzo?

Here is a simple recipe for Orzo Pasta Salad
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 177 kcal


  • 1 cup orzo pasta
  • 1/2 cup diced cucumber
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Cook the orzo pasta according to the package instructions, then drain and rinse under cold water.
  • In a large bowl, combine the cooked orzo pasta, diced cucumber, diced red bell pepper, diced red onion, chopped parsley, chopped basil, and crumbled feta cheese.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Pour the dressing over the pasta salad and toss to combine.
  • Chill the pasta salad in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.


Calories: 177kcal
Keyword orzo salad, What is orzo?
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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.
Cassie Marshall
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