Orzo is one of those odd foods that you may have had many times before without being exactly sure what it is. Is orzo rice or pasta? Is it something else entirely? Well fear not, here’s everything you need to know about orzo.
What is orzo?
To put it simply, despite its rice-like (rice-ish?) size and shape, orzo, also known as risoni, is actually a form of pasta. At ⅓ inch long, it’s one of the smallest members in the pasta family, a sparrow to caccavella’s ostrich, but it is actually not the smallest pasta there is—that honor goes to a little guy named pastina (cute!) who is only 1/16th of an inch But orzo is still quite tiny.
What is orzo made of?
Nutrition-wise, 56 grams of orzo pasta (about one serving) contains 210 calories, 7 grams of protein, a gram of fat, and 44 grams of carbohydrates. It’s made of semolina flour, though, like many pastas these days, it’s also available in whole grain and gluten-free varieties. Orzo has a pretty mild, bready flavor and will soak up the flavors of whatever you put it in—soup, sauce, coffee (don’t put it in coffee).
Also, if you’re taking a trip to Italy, don’t order “orzo” expecting to be served this pasta, as that is the Italian word for barley.
What can you make with orzo?
Now that you’re a risoni expert, you’re probably wondering what to make with orzo. One great thing about this pasta is how versatile it is. There are tons of different ways to prepare it and you can substitute it for rice in pretty much any recipe. Orzo cooks quicker than rice, and has about double the protein, so if you’re looking for a faster alternative, orzo has got you covered.
Orzo is a great addition to a hearty soup, and one of the more iconic dishes that utilizes it is Italian wedding soup. This popular recipe combines orzo with mini meatballs, carrots, onions, celery, chicken broth, and a mix of spices to create a hot, delicious meal that’s great for larger gatherings. Incidentally, while researching this article I learned that it’s called “Italian wedding soup” because of the Italian phrase minestra maritata which means “married soup,” referring to the way the flavors harmoniously combine, like a happy marriage. As it turns out, the name does not come from being a traditional dish at Italian weddings, as I’d always imagined, so I’ll have to forget my longstanding visions of reception guests eating bowl after bowl of soup before dancing La Tarantella.
Beyond soups and stews, orzo is a great option for salads, especially those with a Mediterranean flavor profile. A personal favorite of mine is combining salmon, grape tomatoes, kalamata olives, garlic, orzo, and maybe some cucumbers for a chilled side dish that’s great on a summery day.
But really, you can’t go wrong with orzo. So the next time you’re at the grocery store, don’t be intimidated by its unusual shape, and consider adding it to your next recipe. Enjoy!
Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!