Orzo: Yes It’s Pasta and It Can Sing!

Orzo is a type of pasta that bears such a striking resemblance to rice that it’s often mistaken for rice. The confusion comes not only from the physical resemblance, but also because people equate pasta with more traditional, hearty shapes like the long skinny ribbon shapes of linguini, fettuccini, and spaghetti. Orzo, however, has been around a long time… and confidently stands on its own as a versatile and tasty pasta that can really sing – in a supporting role as a side dish, or as an outright star in a main dish.

While orzo may look like rice, it turns out it wasn’t named for rice at all. The word orzo literally means “barley” in Italian and therefore, inspiration for orzo’s shape and size came directly from that grain.

In other countries, orzo is more widely used and can also be referred to as kritharaki, manestra, rosa marina, reiskorn pasta, or pasta gallo pion. This small, rice shaped pasta is very popular in Greece especially, although it is used in other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern nations, and in some parts of Germany too.

The small sized orzo lends itself to dozens of culinary possibilities in a wide range of recipes… one of the most common being soups like minestrone. It can also be used in pilafs. Typically, we think of pilafs as made with rice, but in Greece, there are a number of pilaf recipes that call specifically for orzo pasta. Because of its size, and ability to absorb flavors very well, orzo can be combined with other ingredients and become a perfect filler for things like stuffed peppers and squash.

Not all orzo is created equal. The best orzo comes from durum semolina wheat… a particularly hard variety of wheat. It holds up perfectly during the cooking process and has a very pleasant clear flavor and chewy “mouthfeel.”

Orzo pasta also comes colored, and flavored with vegetables. Spinach is common, but it can also be mixed with beets, carrots and other vegetables. Rainbow orzo pasta combines several different vegetables to create a highly colorful take on this wonderful, and versatile pasta.

Craving orzo yet? Please come in to Alpine and see what we can do with orzo. Try our grilled salmon with  orzo and spinach and red peppers.