Orzo looks like monster grains of rice, but it’s actually a rice-shaped pasta that you can use in salads, stews, soups and casseroles. It’s easy to cook, but you have to pay close attention because it often gets sticky. You can substitute orzo for rice or other pastas, but it has such a delicate, unusual mouth feel that it’s best to use it in recipes that call for it specifically.
Use plenty of water when cooking orzo pasta and stir it nearly constantly, especially during the first few minutes.
How to Cook Orzo Pasta
- Use an orzo-to-water ratio of about 8 cups water to 1 cup dry pasta. Each cup of dry orzo will yield about a pound of the cooked pasta.
- Bring the water to a boil. Salt the water if you prefer it salted.
- Add the orzo pasta. Bring the mixture back to a boil and then lower the heat until the water settles into a medium-hard boil.
- Stir immediately, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking.
- Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the orzo is soft all the way through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and serve.
Cooking Orzo as Rice
Although orzo is actually a pasta, you can cook it as if it were rice. Use 2½ cups water for each cup of dry orzo. Bring the water to a boil, add the orzo, and then cover the pot and reduce the heat as low as possible and cook until all the water is absorbed. Unlike regular rice, you can stir orzo while you’re cooking it. Add oil or butter once the orzo is fully cooked, and mix it in thoroughly.
Keeping Orzo From Sticking
Orzo has more surface area than other pastas, so it’s especially likely to stick both during the cooking process and after it’s cooked and drained. Not only should you stir it almost constantly while you’re cooking it, but you also should pay close attention because lumps tend to form. If you see your orzo pasta clumping, break the lumps apart gently with the back of your spoon.
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Once you drain the orzo, you’ll need to also stay vigilant to keep it from fusing into a glutinous lump. It’s ideal to cook your orzo as closely as possible to the time you plan to serve it. If you get busy with other parts of your dinner routine, it’s good to have some make-ahead strategies.
Run water through your orzo immediately after draining it, and shake the colander while you’re rinsing it or stir it with a spoon because it will start to set almost immediately. You can add some oil to it as well if you’re not serving it right away. If you’re adding your orzo to a soup or stew, do so as soon as possible, so the liquid in the recipe will keep the grains discrete and separate.
Make a Mediterranean orzo salad by mixing it with a nice olive oil and some lemon juice, along with chopped cucumber and tomato and sliced pitted Kalamata olives. Season with fresh parsley or fresh dill or a combination of the two.
Prepare an orzo casserole by mixing cooked orzo with cooked chicken, lightly cooked vegetables, and the sauce or seasoning of your choice. Top with cheese and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese melts and the casserole is heated through.
Make an orzo soup by preparing a chicken or vegetable stock seasoned with herbs such as parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Add shredded beef, lamb or chicken along with root vegetables such as carrots, leeks and parsnips. Cook the orzo separately and add it soon before serving. It’ll soak up liquid and continue to soften as it steeps in the broth.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.