This 1-Pot Orzo recipe is my saving grace when we want a comforting hot meal in the middle of the week. It comes together in about 30 minutes, and kids and adults both love it. I like to think of it as a more sophisticated (and healthier!) version of mac and cheese.
I’m all about balance, and sometimes a warm plate of creamy pasta is just what we need. This one is all about the orzo, one of those ingredients that sounds fancy but is so easy to prepare. Orzo is a great side dish, yummy as a main dish, and even better when it all comes together in one pot.
What does orzo look like? Orzo looks like long-grain rice at first. Look a little closer, and you’ll see it’s slightly flatter and more oval-shaped. It expands when it cooks.
What is the difference between orzo and rice? Orzo may look like rice, but it is a small form of pasta. Risotto, orzo, and rice are all common carbohydrates in Mediterranean-style, and specifically Italian, cooking.
Is orzo pasta healthier than rice? Orzo pasta has about 50% more calories than rice. It’s not healthier than rice, but occasionally consuming pasta can still be part of a healthy eating plan.
1-Pot Orzo Recipe Ingredient Notes
Orzo is a pasta that looks like rice. It’s a fun ingredient to cook with and pairs with just about anything. This recipe is specifically written for orzo, so I would not substitute it with anything. Orzo is generally a wheat pasta. When I buy regular (wheat) pasta, I look for something high-quality and prefer to get something made with Italian flour—I find it digests easier. You can find pasta like this at many stores these days, it costs a bit more but for me, it’s worth it. Get what works best for you.
Chicken Sausage or Cooked Chicken
To be honest, I’m not a big sausage person, but this dish goes really well with chicken sausage links (not breakfast sausages, but the ones that look more like hot dogs—ha! I’m not really a hot dog person either but so like these chicken sausages). I keep a package in the fridge for when I need a quick meal.
This dish calls for 4chicken sausages, which will come pre-cooked in a package; you’re simply heating them up in the pan before cooking the rest of this recipe. I buy the chicken & apple sausages at Whole Foods, but any pre-cooked chicken sausages work. You could also use any pre-cooked chicken that you might have leftover from a previous day. Or, leave it out altogether if desired. When it comes to the chicken, this recipe is super flexible.
Chicken or Veggie Stock
I make this 1-pot orzo recipe similar to how risotto is made and let all of the liquid absorb directly in the pan. Chicken or veggie stock adds a ton of flavor to the orzo, but you can also use plain water if you find yourself without any stock.
I talk about my love of Parmigiano Reggianooften because it’s a wonderful cheese that happens to be lactose-free. You can also use Pecorino Romano, though it will have a much stronger flavor. You could also leave it out here if you want to make this dish completely dairy-free, it will just be less creamy. Add a little extra salt if you leave it out.
When you add the spinach to the pan it will look like too much, but don’t worry! It cooks down tremendously and not only adds flavor but extra fiber and nutrition to your dish. I buy a 5-ounce bag of spinach and use the whole thing. If your spinach is loose, that’s about 5 big handfuls.
The tomatoes add some needed tang and texture to this dish. Any small tomateos work. I like grape tomatoes sliced in half the long way here, but any cherry tomateos or small tomatoes work. Use the whole pint, they cook down, too.
Fresh Lemon Juice
Fresh lemon juice is a MUST here! It really brings it all together at the end. Don’t skip it. And always use fresh lemon juice—the stuff in bottles is mostly citric acid with lemon flavoring and it doesn’t add that acidic edge that real lemon juice adds. When adding lemon to pasta or soups like this, always stir it in at the end after you turn the heat off to keep the flavor bright.
I sometimes add capers to this if I have some in the refrigerator. They’re nice here but this dish is also great without them if you don’t have any on hand.
What Is the Best Way to Cook Orzo?
You can prepare orzo like rice or pasta, though it has a faster cooking time than rice. Most orzo recipes recommend that you drain the water like you would with most pasta. Use it to make pasta salad, a lemon orzo pasta dish like my recipe below, or replace it in your rice dishes.
One-pot skillet recipes like this one work well with orzo and are perfect for a quick weeknight meal. Instead of cooking and draining the orzo, I make this 1-pot orzo similar to a risotto dish.
Simply remember the ratio of one pound of orzo (usually one package) to 4 cups (one quart) of stock or water. Using that ratio, you can play with the idea of using a risotto-style preparation for orzo.
In this dish, you’ll get calcium from the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (which happens to be lactose-free) and protein from the chicken. (I also have you covered for dairy-free pasta). To make this dish vegetarian, simply leave out the chicken sausage.
My 1-pot orzo recipe also boasts a boost of potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C from the spinach, making for a deliciously satisfying meal. Let me know if you make it and how it turns out in the comments below!
This simple but savory orzo recipe is a great substitute for traditional creamy pasta. I think of it as a sophisticated, healthy mac and cheese.
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 chicken sausages sliced into 1-inch pieces (chicken sausages come pre-cooked; I like the chicken & apple ones from Whole Foods) OR 2 cups cooked chicken breasts, sliced or shredded
1 shallot, minced
1 pound orzo pasta
4 cups chicken stock or veggie stock
1 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (choose real Parmigiano Reggiano for the best tasting and healthiest option)
1/2 cup water
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1 (5-ounce) bag fresh baby spinach (or 4–5 big handfuls baby spinach)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from one large lemon)
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional: 2 tablespoons capers
Heat a high-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Add 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and sliced chicken sausage or cooked chicken breast, cooking for 5-6 minutes until heated through and browned along the edges. (Chicken sausages are already cooked, so you’re just heating them up and browning them a little). Remove the sausages or chicken and set aside on a plate, leaving any bits in the pan.
Turn the same pan to medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in minced shallot and sauté until soft, not brown, for 2-3 minutes.
Turn up the heat and add the dry orzo. Stir to coat, letting the pasta lightly toast for 2-3 minutes.
Turn heat to high and add your chicken broth/veggie stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons of sea salt if your stock is low-sodium.
Simmer for 6-7 minutes until the pasta is al dente and most of the liquid is absorbed. Give it a few big stirs every minute to bring out some of the pasta’s starch (similar to how you make risotto).
Once the orzo looks creamy and has absorbed most of the stock, stir in 1/2 cup water and add 1 cup of grated parmesan, stirring until well incorporated.
Add a few spins of freshly ground black pepper then fold in the sliced tomatoes and spinach and cook another 5 minutes until the tomatoes are nice and soft and the spinach has wilted down.
Turn the heat off and stir in the lemon juice. You can also use your capers as a garnish, if you’d like.
Serve hot. 1-Pot Orzo will keep in the fridge, covered, for up to 3 days.
Cherry tomatoes would also work in this recipe. They’ll just be a little sweeter.
The total time for cooking orzo is 7-10 minutes. Al dente means that the cooked orzo is still a little firm.
You’ll want to stir the orzo as it cooks to release starch from the pasta. Give it a taste after each stir, adding salt if it’s too bland.
Turn the heat to low if your orzo is bubbling too much, and add another few tablespoons of water if it’s too thick. Stir every minute or two until it’s nice and creamy.
Allow your orzo to cool to room temperature before you store it, covered, in the refrigerator. It’ll keep for up to 3 days, but to be honest, we’ve never had it last that long!
This dish is best fresh, but you can freeze it for up to three months if you’re making a batch for later.